Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education. He also teaches at Aquinas Learning, a classical Catholic homeschool program led by his wife Rosario. They have five children.
The purpose of higher education can be summed up in one word: truth. If a college is not genuinely committed to truth, then the education is not “higher” at all.
Today students and educators are greatly challenged by distortions of the truth about man and God. Some of the most faithful Catholic colleges respond admirably, helping their students and society navigate very confusing times. But too many other Catholic colleges are guilty of scandal, leading young people away from truth and toward dangerous ideologies and falsehoods.
At Notre Dame of Maryland University next week, in the midst of Lent, former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and outspoken dissident Sister Jeannine Gramick will be featured at a women’s event presented by the university. Richards is responsible for thousands upon thousands of abortions.
By definition, a Catholic college is devoted to teaching and learning truth, beginning with the firm foundation of Catholic teaching. There is no possible way that presenting Cecile Richards and Sister Gramick accomplishes that mission. It is directly opposed to it.
When such events are criticized, Catholic college leaders will sometimes assert that, well, a college should be free to invite anyone it wants to speak on any topic. The claim is that freedom is needed to discover truth by reason, which it certainly is. But if truth is the aim, then a serious educator would place equal emphasis on upholding what is known to be true and rejecting falsehood. This is especially important at an authentic Catholic college, which is founded upon the conviction that God’s revelation through Christ and His Church is true.
Richards and Gramick oppose Catholic teaching and even natural law. Their advocacy is an attack on truth. Their falsehood is a severe limitation on freedom and an obstacle to students’ unity with God.
On Feb. 4, the University of Notre Dame hosted a panel discussion on “Affirming Care for Gender-Diverse Youth.” The event, presented by the Gender Studies Program at the university, urged that children be allowed to decide for themselves whether they are boys or girls. It endorsed horrific procedures to help children live out their new identities.
Again, such events are often defended by asserting a radicalized, absolute freedom to dialogue while claiming to pursue truth. But what’s presented is known falsehood. That might not be apparent at a secular college, but it should be obvious at a college that roots all of its teaching and research in the truth of Christianity.
Moreover, as at so many other such events, Notre Dame made no pretense of dialogue — not even one speaker who could defend the truths about man and sexuality that have been embraced by humanity for millennia. Notre Dame alumna Alexandra DeSanctis reports that all of the panel’s speakers were “entirely in agreement” on the possibility of sex change, which is in disagreement with Catholic teaching.
Then there’s Loyola University Maryland, which was featured at The Washington Post this week for its Sunday night Mass “incorporating Jimi Hendrix music, ‘Batman’ film clips, YouTube videos on current events” and other innovations chosen by students.
The article quotes the university’s director of student engagement: “For our students who were raised Catholic, there’s that piece of wanting to respect tradition, but then I think about who I was when I went off to college. There’s that desire to have more fun, to be more personally engaged, even to rebel. This Mass answers that as well.”
But does it embrace truth, beauty and goodness? Does it adore, worship and give glory to Truth Himself, present in the Eucharist? Certainly not. This is reminiscent of the 1970s “clown Masses,” appealing to the same base desires for entertainment and excitement, focused on the self instead of the Son of God in flesh and blood. I wonder if many people who were enthralled by clown Masses are faithful Catholics today?
Catholic families would do well to consider their college choices carefully. It makes no sense to invest four years of a young person’s life — and thousands of dollars — only to be taught a distorted view of humanity, morality and reality. Today this is the norm at secular colleges and even many Catholic ones.
Find a faithful Catholic college — not simply with a Catholic heritage or a Catholic appearance, but humbly devoted to truth. The college years are so crucial to a student’s preparation for life!
“Sociological studies tell us that between the ages 18-24… three things happen to young people: they develop life-long relationships, they make the faith their own, and they discover their vocation,” says Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
“This is why, when I talk to seniors in high school, I tell them that choosing a college isn’t a four-year decision — it is a 40-year decision,” he says. At Benedictine and other Newman Guide colleges, that outlook is apparent.
Unless a Catholic college is obviously and deeply committed to the full truth of the Catholic faith, it has compromised its mission. Catholic families deserve authentic Catholic education, and they shouldn’t settle for less.