What is a 'Catholic' University?
Unlike public institutions of higher education, a Catholic university provides a space where both reason and faith serve the development of the individual. The meeting of faith and reason in the service of the common good produces graduates who are confident, have a clarity about where they are headed, and who enter the world with a purpose.
The Catholic Church played a foundational role in establishing the earliest universities in Europe dating back to the 12th century, and in the United States at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
In “The Idea of a University” (1852), John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote that the University “is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.”
By the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council began asking Catholic Universities to reflect particularly on what it means to be Catholic in the modern world. This question has perhaps become more urgent in recent decades with the decline of vowed clergy and reliance on lay faculty to sustain Catholic institutions.
Contemporary definitions of ‘the Catholic University’ are shaped by the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “The Heart of the Church,” issued in 1990 by Pope John Paul II, who writes:
“BORN FROM THE HEART of the Church, a Catholic University is located in that course of tradition which may be traced back to the very origin of the University as an institution. It has always been recognized as an incomparable centre of creativity and dissemination of knowledge for the good of humanity.”
“In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative.”
(Ex Corde Ecclesiae A.1.14; emphasis added)
I will close with a word from a student and scholar whom I hope you will get to know during your time at Niagara. His name is Antoine Frédéric Ozanam.
“To be a martyr is to give back to heaven all that one has received: his money, his blood, his whole soul.
The offering is in our hands; we can make this sacrifice.
It is up to us to choose to which altars it pleases us to bring it,
to what divinity we will consecrate our youth and the time following, in what temple we will assemble:
at the foot of the idol of egoism, or in the sanctuary of God and humanity.”
There is great power at this university. I ask you to use it in ever more creative ways.
Let us enter together, the sanctuary of humanity.
(Very Rev. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M. during the 2018 Vincentian Heritage Celebrations)