A Portrait of an Undergraduate Degree in Catholic Studies By Christopher Thompson May 15, 2000 In some ways, it is not an exaggeration to say that many of the programs sponsored by the Center for Catholic Studies extend beyond undergraduate students to include the larger community. But it is the remarkable success of our undergraduate “experiment” that lends momentum to so many of our initiatives.I use the word “experiment” because real risks were involved in deciding to develop an undergraduate program. Would we be able to attract students? Would we find faculty willing to meet the challenge?Students, faculty and willing supporters have arrived in abundance and exceeded our expectations. Several hundred students participate in our undergraduate programs as majors, minors or simply participants. We are especially pleased at the caliber of our students; several in our class of seniors are graduating with honors.Faculty from across disciplines have shared their expertise by exploring new avenues of inquiry tailored to our Catholic Studies students, developing team taught courses with an interdisciplinary focus and considering questions of intellectual significance. This summer alone, the center will sponsor three seminars for St. Thomas faculty. These and the many lectures and presentations throughout the year all serve to create a climate of intellectual excitement and rigor.Two events of special significance this past year were Archbishop Van Thuân’s presentationand a lecture by Michael Medved, media critic and nationally recognized author. Van Thuân spoke passionately about the church’s vision of work and social justice and shared with us his own experience of suffering and conversion. Medved spoke persuasively about the concerns of conscience and the contemporary media.Though very different presentations, their common link was the vital promotion of intellectual reflection and encounter with U.S. culture, issues especially important to the center and its activities.The undergraduate program provides an atmosphere in which students take seriously the notion of an authentic vocation in the church. Seminarians from St. John Vianney play a vital role, providing a powerful witness in the classroom and on the campus with a potential lifelong commitment to the church and its mission. In return, the intellectual environment of the Catholic Studies classroom supplies the chance to challenge and deepen that witness through an encounter with the church’s intellectual formation.Other undergraduate students are especially encouraged to see their career choices beyond St. Thomas in light of a vocation in the church. Twice a year, the program sponsors a retreat for Catholic Studies students and the larger St. Thomas community, offering the chance to consider how they might integrate the values of their Catholic faith, their study and their career choices.The undergraduate program seeks to develop ways that intelligence is brought to bear on the questions of contemporary culture. We sponsor monthly conver-sations called “Engaging Truth” where faculty and students meet over lunch to discuss common questions facing young people today. Topics ranging from contemporary literature and issues surrounding marriage and dating are treated from the perspective of the Catholic faith. It is our way of engaging students for a lifetime of learning and commitment.The undergraduate centerpiece is our Rome study abroad program. Students are able to experience in a way unlike any other the comprehensive integration of faith and learning in one of the greatest cultural centers of the world. Taking courses with students from around the globe at the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, students enjoy a once in a lifetime exposure to the truly global reality of Catholic life and faith.We are meeting the challenge of developing a comprehensive Catholic Studies curriculum. Students, faculty, administrators and generous supporters have come together to make the undergraduate program a national leader.Our goal is to continue to expand, both in terms of the number of students participating, and an increasing variety of options for people seeking ways of integrating their Catholic faith and their intellectual life.