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The Future of Catholic Higher Education

November 18-19, 2005
at Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas

Panelists: Jayne Byrne, Associate Professor of Nutrition, The College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University; Father Timothy Eden, S.M., Assistant Professor of Education, Chaminade University of Honolulu; and Patrick J. Hayes, Assistant Professor of Religion, Marymount College of Fordham University.

This article, prepared by Michael Fassiotto, Assistant to the Provost, Chaminade University of Honolulu, summarizes the presentations by Professor Byrne on "Benedictine Values and the Future of Catholic Higher Education"; Father Eden on "The Future of Catholic Higher Education: Chaminade University as a Case Study"; and Professor Hayes on "On Teaching Unconventional Women in the Context of Jesuit Higher Education."

Three papers were delivered at the breakout session entitled "The Future of Catholic Higher Education" during the Faculty Resource Network conference on Spirituality and Higher Education. Each paper discussed a different type of Catholic university, each university was sponsored by a different religious order, and each paper suggested a different future for Catholic higher education.

Jayne Byrne described her two schools, the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University, as residential, liberal arts, Catholic colleges located in central Minnesota. She pointed out that the schools are partners in providing a common curriculum to students while maintaining their distinct identities as colleges for women and men, respectively.

The College and University were founded by Benedictine sisters and monks, who remain actively engaged with the schools and provide a distinct spiritual ethos for the academic environment. Within the two organizing principles of a sacramental worldview and nurturing community life, emphasis is placed on the integration and development of the intellectual, emotional and spiritual of each individual, and on the Benedictine understanding of hospitality. While the colleges face challenges common to all Catholic institutions of higher education, there is a sustained momentum among the faculty and administrators to continue and strengthen the Benedictine expression of a distinctly Catholic worldview within the educational environment. The dedication of faculty and administrators with diverse personal and professional backgrounds to sustaining and strengthening the Catholic, Benedictine identity of the colleges is vital to providing an integrated, sacramental experience for students now and in the future.

Chaminade University, as described by Father Eden, is a diverse, coeducational, urban school located in Honolulu. Father Eden outlined the history of his University, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, as a concentrated microcosm of many Catholic universities across the country.

Three general phases have evolved as the University has developed. Founded in 1955 to provide Catholic post-secondary education in Hawaii, Chaminade in its first phase had a high percentage of religious among both its faculty and its student body. Curriculum was strongly influenced by Catholic intellectual thought and eight courses in Catholic religion were required.

In the second, post-Vatican II, phase, the number of new religious dropped off and the Marianist Order itself changed its priorities from post-secondary to secondary education.

In the mid-nineties, when the school was floundering, both the Marianists and its two lay presidents—one of whom was not Catholic, recommitted the University to its Catholic, Marianist roots. Supported by a faculty whose membership is mostly non-Catholic and even though the majority of the student body is not Catholic (in fact, there is a high percentage of non-Christians), the University has made its religious values a key both to its curriculum and recruitment efforts. Based on survey data and enrollments, this recommitment has been successful.

Patrick Hayes's discussion was particularly interesting in that it had been announced shortly prior to the conference, that his institution would be closed at the end of 2007. He pointed out that while he did not want to "clang the death knell for the future of Catholic women's higher education," the fact is that while once the predominant form of Catholic education, there are fewer than 19 other similar colleges "in varying degrees of solvency and vibrancy."

He stated that despite the decrease in numbers such institutions are important for the church and the nation because they seek to keep the past alive in the present, but still stay on the cutting edge precisely as centers of formation for women—whether Catholic or not."

If single-sex education is to survive and contribute to the world, it must attend to the situation of real people. It must continue to do what it does best, particularly in creating an environment conducive to individualized attention, and it must foster diversity in all its dimensions—racially, ethnically, economically, and religiously. Moreover, in the context of Jesuit education, the key is to understand the magis, "the 'more,' really, 'the never enough'—which permeated the love St. Ignatius tried to give to God."