These are tough words and should give anyone involved in higher education, especially Catholic education, reason to sit up and ponder them.
“Today” was 1943. In his Education for Freedom, Robert Hutchins, the visionary president of the University of Chicago, was challenging his colleagues to a deeper analysis of the aims of education and the role of the universities in the creation of culture. He was instrumental in the development of the “great books” approach in higher education, and successfully contributed to the University of Chicago’s becoming one of the most prestigious institutions of learning.
The world has changed much in the past 60 years, but the issues surrounding the role of education in the formation of its citizens remain perennial. Catholic Studies, along with the broader St. Thomas community, remains dedicated to that mission of forming men and women who take seriously their responsibilities for shaping a culture of excellence.
We see the heart of our work to be essentially ecclesial, that is, rooted in the Church. We are, after all, a Catholic Studies program. Yet at the same time, we work to produce graduates who turn their energies toward the horizon and see in their surrounding culture the opportunities for transformation and growth.
Almost 40 students graduated this spring, with 21 “double-majors” combining Catholic Studies with another major field. We work hard to produce an informed student, one who knows the principal elements of the Catholic intellectual heritage, but we also encourage a real engagement with contemporary culture. We recognize, as Hutchins did, the problems of increasing specialization and the fragmentary character of education and for similar reasons encourage students to combine their Catholic Studies formation with professional training. We offer some of the strongest formation in these areas (business, the sciences, as well as the liberal arts) in the country and deliberately seek to build upon that strength.
“Catholic Studies, along with the broader St.Thomas community, remains dedicated to that mission of forming men and women who take seriously their responsibilities for shaping a culture of excellence.”
Business minded students can study with Dr. Michael Naughton, one of the leading minds in the areas of Catholic social thought and business management. His award winning classes fill regularly as he has developed, here and around the world, a reputation for challenging the “business is business” mindset of so many. Rooted in Catholic moral tradition, Christian Faith and the Management Profession, offers to our students one of the clearest opportunities to become professionally trained, morally informed.
Our master’s program is one of the few in the country able to combine an even deeper intellectual formation in the Catholic tradition with professional law training. This ability to receive a top notch professional formation along with a lively and vigorous Catholic encounter makes our programs here among the most attractive in the country. We’re proud to announce our first graduating class this year.
Our message, professional formation within a Catholic tradition, seems to be getting out. Increasingly, freshmen are coming to campus especially seeking a degree in Catholic Studies. For the first few years, our pool of participants was internal to the university, students who already had decided to come to St. Thomas for other reasons. This semester at least 20 students have expressed an interest in Catholic Studies right from the start. They’re looking for a way to plug in to the program from the moment they arrive. It’s a nice challenge to have.
To meet that challenge requires a sustained commitment on the part of several groups of people. The university president and his administrators have to continue to support our efforts, finding ways to institutionalize the great work we have begun. Faculty and staff have to continue to meet the challenges of student formation and program development. And, finally, those outside the institution need to continue with financial support and prayers. The considerable external support we’ve enjoyed these past few years supplies the vital energy for what we are about.
Hutchins’ remarks have an ominous ring about them, not unlike so many of the kinds of comments one hears today when considering the challenges of higher education. He concludes his remarks with a challenge for us all. “With determination, energy, unselfishness, and humility,” he says, “the universities must struggle to meet the challenge of our time.” I think we’re up to the task at Catholic Studies. Come! Join us for the education of a lifetime.