The Catholic University of America

April 12, 2011

Symposium Yields Wide-Ranging Discussions on Catholic Universities

Speakers Explore Intellectual and Faith Life on Catholic Campuses

 
  President John Garvey
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A two-day symposium at The Catholic University of America brought together experts from the United States and abroad for wide-ranging discussions on the interplay between virtue and the spiritual and intellectual life of a Catholic university.

Catholic University President John Garvey called the April 11 and 12 symposium the “capstone” to more than 20 lectures and other events that have taken place on campus this semester to explore his inaugural year theme “Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University.” He noted that “the intentional focus on this topic by a number of distinguished speakers has enriched our campus community.”

The presidents of St. Thomas Aquinas College, Ukrainian Catholic University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, University of Dallas, The Catholic University of Korea, and Providence College attended the event at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center.

Among the speakers were experts in the fields of economics, sociology, political science, law, and philosophy. The more than 350 attendees included academicians from 21 universities who represented five countries.

On April 11, Garvey greeted the attendees and introduced Bishop Thomas Curry, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

 
Bishop Thomas Curry, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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In his opening remarks, Curry addressed three topics: the need for a renewed understanding of American civil and religious liberties, the challenge of renewing our appreciation of the American Catholic past and present, and the need to help the Church and bishops clarify the possibilities and implications of cooperation between government and Catholic schools.

“One of the great intellectual challenges facing our Catholic community is to recover an appreciation of the importance of American Catholicism and the role it has played in America,” he said.

Following Bishop Curry’s remarks, in a keynote speech on “Intellect and Virtue in Catholic Universities Today,” internationally known philosopher John Rist said, “The Catholic university should be the place where we are offered a yardstick: there we have, or should have, an intellectual tradition of offering an ongoing scrutiny, so far as possible, of God’s own revelation and its relationship to human nature and human prospects. It seems, therefore, that we should be asking ourselves how far this aim has been actualized, or even could be actualized.”

Rist is a visiting professor at Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome, and professor emeritus of classics and philosophy at the University of Toronto.

He said that in many Catholic universities, there is much to be done in combining the “intellectual” and the “pastoral.” He said it is the job of Catholic universities, “not to train students to enjoy shaking hands with the great and the good, but to teach them to encourage the great and the good to become greater and better than they usually are.

 
  John Rist, professor emeritus of classics and philosophy at the University of Toronto
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“That does not entail theological sentimentality, showy piety, or self-righteousness; it means searching for and promulgating truth, plus an ability to make reasoned judgments about the ways in which conscience-driven activities can most usefully — and not self-servingly — be carried out.”

He went on to say, “No one should leave a Catholic university without being aware of why he or she is a Catholic. Such awareness is an awareness of how the Catholic tradition can make sense of the world in which we live, in all the growing complexity of that world of which we are also becoming constantly more aware.”

Next on the program were John Haldane, director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and Christopher Kaczor, professor of philosophy in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University.

In addressing the topic “Virtue and Faith Life,” these two speakers considered the question, “How does the life of faith at Catholic universities impact intellectual life?”

Haldane told the audience, “Contrary to what is increasingly assumed by opponents and advocates, Catholicism is not first and foremost about sexual ethics, or abortion, or liturgy, or justice and peace, or environmental stewardship.

 
John Haldane, director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland
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“Rather it is about coming to know, to love and to serve God. Perhaps the rest follows, but it follows and does not lead, and nor is it an acceptable substitute for faith.”

Referring to Blessed John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University, published in 1852, and John Stuart Mill’s rectorial address to students at St. Andrews, delivered and published in 1867, Haldane said “we need within the Catholic world to engage in an overdue conversation about the values, aims, and purposes of education.” Haldane said the texts of Newman and Mill provide “excellent” preparation for such a discussion.

Sharing the topic of “Virtue and Campus Life” with Haldane was Kaczor, who addressed modern-day campus life with the argument that single-sex dorms provide an important solution to such widespread problems as binge drinking and [sexual] hook-ups.

“In a Catholic university, the moral life and the academic life are united, such that the university should seek to foster both. Practices that deter either academic growth or moral growth or both should be discouraged,” said Kaczor.

Paul Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School, and Joseph Kaboski, David F. and Erin M. Seng Foundation Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame, were the last of the formal presenters on day one of the symposium, delivering thought-provoking responses to the question, “How do the virtues shape intellectual life at Catholic universities today?”

 
  Paul Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School
  > Photo gallery  > Video

“Liturgical work is done without interest in or concern for outcome. We do not receive the body and blood or hear the word or sing praises to the Lord because we think that doing these things improves us morally, makes us healthier, provides us material blessings, or conforms us to Christ — even though it may do some or all of these things,” said Griffiths.

“We work liturgically because it is the thing to do; because liturgical gratitude is the only way to accept a gift given, especially one of surpassing beauty and value that we do not merit; and because we are in love and are eager to show that love.”

In talking about academicians, Kaboski said, “We do not need to claim to have answers to all the tough questions right now. We can have the boldness to tackle big questions that may not have immediate payoffs. Indeed, universities are often the only institutions with the freedom to tackle such questions.

“In any case, as researchers and teachers we are able to admit that we do not have all the ‘clear and definitive’ answers. We will never have them all, nor will we solve every problem. We are simply planting seed that, with the help of God, will bear fruit, perhaps long into the future and in ways unknown to us. But our hope is in God.”

Caroline Sherman, assistant professor of history at CUA, served as a respondent to the Griffiths and Kaboski lectures. Following the symposium’s first day, she reflected, “It is so easy to talk about the interplay of intellect and virtue at a Catholic University. But what that interplay actually means is more difficult to discern. But today, I think we did just that.”

For full texts of the speakers’ talks and video of all the presentations at the symposium, visit http://president.cua.edu/inauguration/symposium.cfm.

 

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