An idea of a Catholic University

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Canon law

Catholic Universities and Other Institutes of Higher Studies

Can. 807-814
Can. 807
The Church has the right to erect and direct universities, which contribute to a more profound human culture, the fuller development of the human person, and the fulfillment of the teaching function of the Church.
Can. 808
Even if it is in fact Catholic, no university is to bear the title or name of Catholic university without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.
Can. 809
If it is possible and expedient, conferences of bishops are to take care that there are universities or at least faculties suitably spread through their territory, in which the various disciplines are studied and taught, with their academic autonomy preserved and in light of Catholic doctrine.
Can. 810
§1. The authority competent according to the statutes has the duty to make provision so that teachers are appointed in Catholic universities who besides their scientific and pedagogical qualifications are outstanding in integrity of doctrine and probity of life and that they are removed from their function when they lack these requirements; the manner of proceeding defined in the statutes is to be observed.
§2. The conferences of bishops and diocesan bishops concerned have the duty and right of being watchful so that the principles of Catholic doctrine are observed faithfully in these same universities.
Can. 811
§1. The competent ecclesiastical authority is to take care that in Catholic universities a faculty or institute or at least a chair of theology is erected in which classes are also given for lay students.
§2. In individual Catholic universities, there are to be classes which especially treat those theological questions which are connected to the disciplines of their faculties.
Can. 812
Those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.

Can. 813
The diocesan bishop is to have earnest pastoral care for students, even by erecting a parish or at least by designating priests stably for this, and is to make provision that at universities, even non-Catholic ones, there are Catholic university centers which give assistance, especially spiritual assistance, to youth.
Can. 814
The prescripts established for universities apply equally to other institutes of higher learning.

Profession of Faith

Can. 833
The following are personally bound to make a profession of faith, according to the formula approved by the Apostolic See in the presence of the Chancellor or, in the absence of the Chancellor, the local Ordinary, or the delegates of either:
  • the rector of an ecclesiastical or catholic university, at the beginning of the term of office--in the presence of the rector if he is a priest, or of the local Ordinary or the delegates of either;
  • those who in any universities teach subjects which deal with faith or morals, at the beginning of their term of office; ...

Ex corde ecclesiae

Original version on the Vatican website: "Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on Catholic Universities," 15 August 1990.

Translated to wiki format: Ex corde ecclesiae.

The virtuous life

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852), Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
‎"You may dazzle the mind with a thousand brilliant discoveries of natural science; you may open new worlds of knowledge which were never dreamed of before; yet, if you have not developed in the soul of the pupil strong habits of virtue which will sustain her in the struggle of life, you have not educated her, but only ...put in her hand a powerful instrument of self-destruction."

Excerpts from the Land o' Lakes Conference


Catholic History, "Land o' Lakes Statement."
The statement, drawn up and signed by a group of Catholic educators led by University of Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, had as its purpose defining the relationship between the modern American university and the Church, and between the Catholic university and American intellectual life. Characterized by historian Philip Gleason as a "declaration of independence from the hierarchy," the statement provoked a decades-long debate over the character of American Catholic higher education. For supporters, "The Idea of the Catholic University" was a long overdue statement of Catholic educators' agreement with the tenets of American academia, such as academic freedom, and their willingness to contribute fully to the nation's intellectual life. For critics, the manifesto dangerously divorced the Catholic university from the life of faith and set in motion a deplorable decline in the Catholic identity of American institutions of higher education.


... The group clearly recognized that the presence of and active participation by persons who are not Catholics in the Catholic university community are most desirable and, indeed, even necessary to bring authentic universality to the Catholic university itself. Those of other views, whether students, faculty members, or administrators, bring rich contributions from their own various traditions. They also insure by their active participation the seriousness and integrity of the search for understanding and commitment. The group, however, makes no attempt to describe herein how this desirable participation of others than Catholics can be integrated with the Catholic community of learners as described in this document, so that, in fact, their participation would make the Catholic university a Catholic-sponsored pluralistic society. ...

One of the basic convictions of the study group is that the Catholic university not only can and must be a university in the authentic sense of the word, both traditional and modern, but that, in fact, a Catholic university properly developed can even more fully achieve the ideal of a true university. ...

The Catholic University: A True University with Distinctive Characteristics

The Catholic University today must be a university in the full modern sense of the word, with a strong commitment to and concern for academic excellence. To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities.

The Catholic university participates in the total university life of our time, has the same functions as all other true universities and, in general, offers the same services to society. The Catholic university adds to the basic idea of a modern university distinctive characteristics which round out and fulfill that idea. Distinctively, then, the Catholic university must be an institution, a community of learners or a community of scholars, in which Catholicism is perceptibly present and effectively operative.

The Theological Disciplines

In the Catholic university this operative presence is effectively achieved first of all and distinctively by the presence of a group of scholars in all branches of theology. The disciplines represented by this theological group are recognized in the Catholic university, not only as legitimate intellectual disciplines, but as ones essential to the integrity of a university. Since the pursuit of the theological sciences is therefore a high priority for a Catholic university, academic excellence in these disciplines becomes a double obligation in a Catholic university.

The Primary Task of the Theological Faculty

The theological faculty must engage directly in exploring the depths of Christian tradition and the total religious heritage of the world, in order to come to the best possible intellectual understanding of religion and revelation, of man in all his varied relationships to God. Particularly important today is the theological exploration of all human relations and the elaboration of a Christian anthropology. Furthermore, theological investigation today must serve the ecumenical goals of collaboration and unity.

Interdisciplinary Dialogue in the Catholic University

To carry out this primary task properly there must be a constant discussion within the university community in which theology confronts all the rest of modern culture and all the areas of intellectual study which it includes.

Theology needs this dialogue in order:

  • to enrich itself from the other disciplines;
  • to bring its own insights to bear upon the problems of modern culture; and
  • to stimulate the internal development of the disciplines themselves.

In a Catholic university all recognized university areas of study are frankly and fully accepted and their internal autonomy affirmed and guaranteed. There must be no theological or philosophical imperialism; all scientific and disciplinary methods, and methodologies, must be given due honor and respect. However, there will necessarily result from the interdisciplinary discussions an awareness that there is a philosophical and theological dimension to most intellectual subjects when they are pursued far enough. Hence, in a Catholic university there will be a special interest in interdisciplinary problems and relationships. ...

The Catholic University as the Critical Reflective Intelligence of the Church

Every university, Catholic or not, serves as the critical reflective intelligence of its society. In keeping with this general function, the Catholic university has the added obligation of performing this same service for the Church. Hence, the university should carry on a continual examination of all aspects and all activities of the Church and should objectively evaluate them. The Church would thus have the benefit of continual counsel from Catholic universities. Catholic universities in the recent past have hardly played this role at all. It may well be one of the most important functions of the Catholic university of the future.

The Catholic University and Research

The Catholic university will, of course, maintain and support broad programs of research. It will promote basic research in all university fields but, in addition, it will be prepared to undertake by preference, though not exclusively, such research as will deal with problems of greater human urgency or of greater Christian concern.

The Catholic University and Public Service

In common with other universities, and in accordance with given circumstances, the Catholic university is prepared to serve society and all its parts, e.g., the Federal Government, the inner city, et cetera. However, it will have an added special obligation to carry on similar activities, appropriate to a university, in order to serve the Church and its component parts.

Some Characteristics of Undergraduate Education

... The university should endeavor to present a collegiate education that is truly geared to modern society. The student must come to a basic understanding of the actual world in which he lives today. This means that the intellectual campus of a Catholic university has no boundaries and no barriers. It draws knowledge and understanding from all the traditions of mankind; it explores the insights and achievements of the great men of every age; it looks to the current frontiers of advancing knowledge and brings all the results to bear relevantly on man's life today. The whole world of knowledge and ideas must be open to the student; there must be no outlawed books or subjects. Thus the student will be able to develop his own capabilities and to fulfill himself by using the intellectual resources presented to him.

Along with this and integrated into it should be a competent presentation of relevant, living, Catholic thought. ...

Some Special Social Characteristics of the Catholic Community of Learners

... Within the university community the student should be able not simply to study theology and Christianity, but should find himself in a social situation in which he can express his Christianity in a variety of ways and live it experientially and experimentally. The students and faculty can explore together new forms of Christian living, of Christian witness, and of Christian service.

The students will be able to participate in and contribute to a variety of liturgical functions, at best, creatively contemporary and experimental. They will find the meaning of the sacraments for themselves by joining theoretical understanding to the lived experience of them. Thus the students will find and indeed create extraordinary opportunities for a full, meaningful liturgical and sacramental life. ...

Characteristics of Organization and Administration

... The social organization should be such as to emphasize the university's concern for persons as individuals and for appropriate participation by all members of the community of learners in university decisions. University decisions and administrative actions should be appropriately guided by Christian ideas and ideals and should eminently display the respect and concern for persons.

The evolving nature of the Catholic university will necessitate basic reorganizations of structure in order not only to achieve a greater internal cooperation and participation, but also to share the responsibility of direction more broadly and to enlist wider support. A great deal of study and experimentation will be necessary to carry out these changes, but changes of this kind are essential for the future of the Catholic university.

In fine, the Catholic university of the future will be a true modern university but specifically Catholic in profound and creative ways for the service of society and the people of God.

John Henry Newman

In Idea of a University, Newman said that if we remove God from the curriculum, then other things will try to take God's place as the highest good in life.