The Case Statement

“Everywhere today the ruling forces in civilization seem converging against the Christian tradition.  Modern civilization is not only ceasing to be Christian; it is setting itself up as an anti-religion which will tolerate no rival, and which claims to be sole master of the world.  Never, perhaps, in the whole of its history has the People of God seemed weaker and more scattered, and more at the mercy of its enemies than it is today.  Yet this is no reason for us to despair.  The Christian law of progress is the very reverse of that of the world.  When the Church possesses all the marks of external power and success, then is its hour of danger; and when it seems that no human power can save it, the time of its deliverance is at hand.” - Christopher Dawson

 

The past forty years have brought vast cultural and social changes to Ireland.  The Catholic-Christian moral vision, which was dominant for most of the nation’s history since the time of St. Patrick, has come under unrelenting attack from large segments of the media, the entertainment industry and the ruling elites.  Principles which for centuries were taken for granted - the sanctity of life, the nature of marriage, the propriety of chastity, beauty in art and music and the simple courtesies and privileges governing relations between the sexes and between the old and the young - have been eroded to the point that many in the younger generation have not heard about them, much less been taught to value them.  Never was there more need for the Catholic witness of the way we are called to live and of the ultimate destiny of each man and woman – to know Christ Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and to make Him known.

Ireland’s membership in the European Union brought about considerable (if uneven) prosperity and development.  Yet it came at a price.  The loss of full independence and an already weakened faith found Ireland unprepared for the onslaught of secularism from the Continent.  And the Church, which had for centuries been the main guardian of those values, personal and communal, which sustained Ireland through persecution, poverty and famine, has been severely impaired by scandal and undermined by dissent and confusion.  Catholic Ireland, which once led the world in religious education and missionary activity, has become so hollowed out that it is no longer ordaining enough priests even to serve the diminished number of church-going Catholics in Ireland.  For perhaps the first time in over a millennium, Ireland faces a crisis of faith.

The truths of the faith can be taught in parochial schools, in catechesis classes and of course in the home.  Yet what is at stake in Irish society is the challenge to the Christian vision at the deepest intellectual levels; for example, in the sciences (atheistic materialism), philosophy (relativism), anthropology (empiricism and reductionism), politics (multiculturalism and the denigration of Western Civilization) and culture (subjectivism regarding art and music).  These attacks need to be answered at that same level.  A high quality Catholic academic institution can assist the faithful in responding to the increase in challenges to the Church.  It can also form the next generation of professionals, mothers and fathers, ethical business leaders and those called to the priesthood or religious life.  It can foster a love of beauty in the arts, and begin restoring an appreciation of the treasures of Western Civilization.  Indeed, without a vibrant and confident Catholic witness Ireland is in danger of losing its unique culture and even its liberties.

FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES

It is submitted that the first essential task is to agree on the foundational principles for a new academic entity.  Based on experience, the following were proposed and now have been approved by the founding laity and clergy concerned.

  1. Seek Ecclesiastical approval but not governance.  Ex Corde Ecclessiae envisions that many Catholic institutions of higher learning will be lay-controlled.  The local Ordinary must approve the institution’s designation as “Catholic”, and will need to grant a “mandatum” certifying those teaching Catholic theology are qualified to do so.  But there is no requirement that the local Ordinary be involved in the administration of the institution, its finances or its curriculum.  Most bishops already have too many demands on their time, and a prudent one will recognize that an academic institution faithful to the Church can be a great resource for his diocese.

  2. Ensure that the institution is an Irish one, i.e., a strong majority of the directors of the institution should be Irish. Newman College Ireland has been formed as an Irish not-for-profit entity.  A majority of its managing directors and all other members of the entity are Irish citizens who live and work in Ireland.  This assures that the needs of the Church in Ireland and the Irish people will be paramount. This does not rule out extensive collaboration with foreign (or domestic) entities, such as articulation agreements for the mutual recognition of course credits. 

  3. Establish a “core curriculum” of the liberal arts, including theology, philosophy, history, literature, mathematics and natural science. 

  4. Take responsibility for the pastoral dimension of the lives of the students.  The importance of this was stressed by Venerable Cardinal Newman based on his experience at Oxford and with the Catholic University of Ireland.  Given the degraded teenage culture in the modern world, this is no easy task.  Even students from good homes of happily married couples are exposed to hedonistic values in the cinema, television and the internet.  Solid and inspiring lectures are no longer sufficient to bring about a commitment to living a Catholic moral life.  This is best accomplished through ”accompaniment”; the practice of faculty and staff spending extensive time with students outside the classroom, in recreation, dining, in their homes with the spouse and children, and enjoying the arts.  Students will naturally admire the faculty (and key staff) and will be greatly influenced by their conduct.  In the end, many students will learn to live a Catholic way of life joyfully, and the faith lived joyfully is the surest way to attract new students and donors, and to begin the re-evangelism of the culture.

  5. Provide scholarship aid in addition to very low tuition costs to begin with. This would make the institution attractive from the beginning and allow the institution to select top students willing and able to undertake a rigorous course of studies. 

  6. Recognize that the key to the success of the institution will be the faculty.  These are the men and women who will inspire students to the life of the mind; who will be their mentors and role models.  Hence, faculty should be recruited not only for their teaching ability, but for their willingness to devote time to students outside the classroom.

  7. The institution should not be restricted to one form of spirituality or one form of liturgy, but allow what the Church allows.  The institution should be noted for being orthodox, but not deemed reactionary; for its obedience to the Church and openness to new ideas; for students who have learned to embrace Catholic teaching on faith and morals with joy.

Since there is agreement on these, the remaining issues are largely a matter of the practicalities of making the institution more effective and having better prospects for success.

Nick Healy is President Emeritus of Ave Maria University.

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