The day after an historic and widely-covered March for Life, presidents from four Newman Guide colleges and Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick Reilly presented on the future of Catholic higher education at the “CRISIS: Catholic Higher Education and the Next Generation” conference co-sponsored by the Newman Society and the Institute for Catholic Culture.
The college presidents—John Garvey of The Catholic University of America, Father Sean Sheridan, TOR, of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Dr. William Thierfelder of Belmont Abbey College and Dr. George Harne of Northeast Catholic College—spoke about the contributions their respective institutions have made and are currently making to Catholic higher education.
All of the talks can be found online at the website for the Institute of Catholic Culture.
In the opening remarks, Reilly clarified that the purpose of the conference was not “wailing and gnashing of the teeth” about the continued problems at many Catholic universities but rather a hopeful look to the future from leaders whom Reilly called “the future of Catholic higher education in the United States.”
The conference coincided with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Land O’ Lakes statement, in which several Catholic university leaders declared independence from Church authority. Despite the document’s long-lasting and detrimental effects on Catholic higher education, Reilly said leaders in Catholic education should finally leave the document behind and focus on Ex corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education.
“The ideas put forward in the Land O’ Lakes Statement are not only no longer very interesting,” he said, “but they have been debunked by the obvious secularization of the Catholic colleges that embraced them.”
We remember the “Land O’ Lakes Statement”—not to celebrate it or even to give it continued regard—but instead to put it behind us.
Our time is the time of Ex corde Ecclesiae, which means “From the Heart of the Church.” We are restoring the foundations of Catholic education at the heart of the Church, and with the heart of the Church.
Reilly noted that “every one of the new Catholic colleges established in the last 50 years are vibrantly and faithfully Catholic, and they’re setting an example for all of Catholic education” Reilly said.
He praised the colleges that have undergone periods of great renewal, citing The Catholic University of America and Franciscan University of Steubenville as examples. “There is an amazing renewal today of Catholic higher education,” he said, “and The Cardinal Newman Society is excited to have played a role in that and bringing attention to it.”
Fr. Sheridan late told The Newman Society that Franciscian University’s renewal “demonstrates that it is possible to thrive as an institution that is both Catholic and a university.” He credited the successful renewal to an increased attention to Ex corde Ecclesiae and suggested it as the foundation for the next 50 years in Catholic education. “Embracing the gift of Ex corde Ecclesiae provides the most reliable roadmap for the success of Catholic universities over the next five decades,” Fr. Sheridan said.
Northeast Catholic College President Dr. George Harne also echoed Reilly’s optimism for the future of Catholic higher education. Vibrantly Catholic institutions, he told the Newman Society, will “draw their very being from the faith” and “shed light, offer hope, and form the whole person for flourishing in this life and the next.” “Faithful institutions are and will continue to be beacons and their importance will increase exponentially in the next 50 years,” Dr. Harne said.
“We seek nothing less than a renewal of the Church in New England and the nation that in turn ignites our world for Christ,” Dr. Harne told the Newman Society. “We will find increasingly better ways to form the whole person so that Catholic families are stronger, parishes are more vibrant, and the call to radical, transformative, and sacramental discipleship can be heard by all.”
Fr. Sheridan articulated similar goals for the next 50 years at Franciscan University. “We will focus on responding to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to educate, to evangelize, and to send forth joyful disciples,” Fr. Sheridan said.
Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, graduate of Christendom College and founding executive director of the Institute of Catholic Culture thanked Reilly for the Newman Society’s work on Catholic education saying, “So many have received the gift of faith from these [Newman Guide] colleges via the good work of the Cardinal Newman Society.” Reilly likewise praised the ICC for providing the sort of spiritual and intellectual formation that is at the heart of true Catholic education.