The first week of August brought together 30 professors from across the country to the University of Portland for two days of intense intellectual work, an exhausting yet satisfying exchange of ideas and pedagogical experiences in order to advance and explore the integration of Catholic social thought within the curriculum of an undergraduate business degree. This gathering at the University of Portland was the third in a series of meetings that started in 2006, examining the meaning of a business education at a Catholic university. (See Perspectives online archive, December 2008 and 2009.)

Their mission is cutting edge in examining how a Catholic institution can be of benefit to business graduates in ways that secular universities do not. It is work such as this that propels the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought forward in seeking to prepare a new generation of business leaders with a solid understanding of God and the human person that orders their families, work and social lives. This understanding stems from the rich Catholic worldview that is the culmination of centuries of careful thought on social issues and what it means to live in community. This outlook, integrated within the standard business degree, provides a holistic vision that has the potential to transform the business world, translating into such concrete particulars as more humane work environments and expectations, better economic standards of measurement, and a renewed focus on the family.

The professors – and a few professionals – from across the country have been thinking about “the uniquely Catholic dimension of undergraduate business degrees” for several years. They came from several sponsoring universities, such as the University of Notre Dame, St. Louis University, the University of Portland, Ave Maria University and Benedictine College. The Portland conference builds on the first and second stages of the business-curriculum project. These earlier conferences examined the general contour of a business program at a Catholic university and delineated principles for business degrees in such institutions. This means, then, that the primary work of these professors was and continues to be very practical and concrete: what does a course in, say, microeconomics, look like at a Catholic university? How should one teach such a course? And how do the Catholic social principles of human dignity, subsidiarity, participation and the common good fit into this class? That was the discussion of the first session, and the group turned successively to macroeconomics, management strategy, marketing, business ethics, philosophical ethics and theological ethics, asking and discussing these two questions for each subject area. In going forward, the goal is to continue to develop a set of class outlines – a curriculum – that can be implemented in actual classrooms, while still allowing room for the mission and vision of different universities.

This conference was the first opportunity for students to be involved in the Ryan Institute curriculum project, and it was our first taste of an academic conference. Our mission was to assist Dr. Michael Naughton in the logistics, to learn and to bring back our experience to St. Thomas. As we boarded the plane to Portland, we wondered if the conference material would be over our heads. To our relief, it was remarkably accessible – thanks to the Catholic Studies 401 capstone class on Catholic social thought – and we emerged from the experience confident that we can offer relevant contributions to the conversation.

What do we bring back to St. Thomas? We bring back a great appreciation of what it takes to integrate faith and learning, and in particular Catholic faith and business learning. Professors like these don’t simply arrive on the first day and start teaching; rather, they think, dialogue, brainstorm and put together the best course they can conceive for the formation of their students. Around the country, there are many such professors who care about their students, their universities, their cultures and the Church. We also bring back the international renown of the Ryan Institute and the Center for Catholic Studies; they are creative, effective and admired.

To view curriculum materials developed at the Portland conference, go to: www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/cst/curriculum/buscurrmaterial.html

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