Catholic or Jesuit?

When I was in seminary in the 1980s, I was blessed to have Dr. Peter Kreeft as my principal philosophy professor. One time he told me he was teaching a class at nearby Boston College, and there was a football player sitting in the front row. At one point, the football player asked, “This Descarte guy, was he a Catholic, or was he a Jesuit?” Without missing a beat, Dr. Kreeft responded (truthfully), “He was a Catholic,” and moved on with the class.

When I would do apostolic work at Boston-area campuses at that time, Harvard and MIT students and faculty were receptive, but we met with intense hostility at Boston College. 

Unfortunately, and not to pick on the Jesuits (though they deserve it!), there is something of a choice today between truly “Catholic” colleges and several prominent “Jesuit” colleges. [more]Okay, there are some really outstanding Jesuits past and present, and there are some other religious communities that haven”t well preserved a robust Catholic identity for their institutions, either, but you know what I mean.

With that context, I wanted to share with readers a snippet from an address earlier this month by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the courageous American prelate who serves as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome. He gave the address at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, on the subject of Catholic higher education. The following candid remark hits the nail on the head:

“According to the ancient canonical wisdom, corruptio optimi pessima est, ‘the corruption of the best is the worst.’ Sadly, we have witnessed the truth of the axiom in so many Catholic colleges and universities in our nation, which once gave pride of place to their Catholic identity and the Catholic life of the campus, but now are Catholic in name only, usually qualifying their Catholic identity by another name, for example, calling themselves a Catholic university in the Franciscan or Jesuit tradition. What the tradition, with a small ‘t,’ means, in practice can have little, if anything, to do with Tradition, with a capital ‘t.’ The word, ‘Catholic,’ in the name of a university has its full qualification, that is, it accepts no modifiers.”

For the full text of Cardinal Burke”s address, and for more information on Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, which Cardinal Burke praised, click here. For sound guidance in selecting a Catholic college for yourself or for your children, click here.

And by the way, out of curiosity I just visited Boston College”s website. As expected, the opening line on the “About BC” page said, “Boston College is committed to maintaining and strengthening the Jesuit, Catholic mission of the University . . .” Sounds good on paper (because if it”s authentically Jesuit then it”s authentically Catholic), but I really don”t think the “American Jesuit college experience” today is quite what Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola would have desired or envisioned!

2 Responses to “Catholic or Jesuit?”

  1. JohnE says:

    It”s a frustrating thing to see this in our Catholic institutions. The recent spat between Archbishop Olmsted and a Catholic hospital in his area is another example. With many such institutions the word "tradition" seems to mean little more than some sort of quaint nostalgic history that they look back upon with a measured degree of fondness — certainly nothing that is applicable to today. Reminds me of Esau selling his birthright for a meal.

  2. leon says:

    Case in point: The following is taken from a news brief today:

    "Reacting to news of the bishop’s letter, the ACLU again urged the federal government to compel religious hospitals to provide ”emergency abortions,” and Lisa Fullam, professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, urged the hospital to defy the bishop."

    So the Jesuit educational institution is siding with the ACLU against the Catholic bishop.

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