Author proposes plan to keep the 'Catholic' in Catholic universities
Reviewed by Sister Mona Castelazo, CSJ
Catholic News Service
In The Future of Catholic Higher Education, John Wilcox addresses the problem of maintaining Catholicity at the university level. The author proposes a concrete plan that entails creating a mission community on campus that provides both "education of the mind and formation of the heart" for faculty, administration and staff.
Wilcox, a retired professor of religion at Manhattan College in Danbury, Conn., sees the transition from religious congregational leadership to lay administration as the most crucial challenge. He therefore suggests a revisioning mission program in which religious and lay leaders work in association to acquaint new faculty with the nature of a Catholic college, its life and its mission. Primary is the attempt to offer dignity and respect to each individual within a relational community.
The author envisions a faculty learning committee, an orientation program for new hires which provides support and prevents fragmentation, isolation, neglect and loneliness.
Sessions emphasize education concerning Catholic culture and intellectual life, the history of change in the church, and the importance of personal commitment to a spiritual path. Following the sessions, members are invited to become part of a mission committee, which works with the founding congregation to preserve and enhance the integrity of the university.
The book offers six excellent essays reflecting the orientation sessions.
Concerning change, Wilcox points out that scholasticism, undergirding pre-Second Vatican Council Catholic ideology, provided "a comprehensive, tightly ordered system," an overarching philosophical and theological worldview that has been swept away.
Catholics have been absorbed into the larger American culture, which has moved through the enlightenment and postmodern thought into a world of fragmentation. Religious congregations, the originators of Catholic universities, have diminished. Fewer feeder schools supply students; fewer of those students are religiously literate and universities have become religiously and nonreligiously pluralistic.
On the positive side, Wilcox notes that the church has become more ecumenical, interreligious, and open to global worldviews, leading to the discovery of possible "common ground" spirituality.
Two fine essays appear in the book on adult spiritual growth and development, by Jennifer Lindholm and Suzanne Dale Wilcox, respectively.
The Catholic university reflects American society in that there is more interest in spirituality today than in religion per se. Both essays point out differences between the two. Spirituality emphasizes wholeness, connectedness, personal experience, stages of commitment and movement "from inward to outward action." Religion concerns organized ritual worship, doctrine, codes of behavior, beliefs and devotional practices.
Suzanne Wilcox's essay explains the process of spiritual growth in terms of the Ox Herding Pictures of the East. She lists the qualities of spiritual maturity as an ongoing quest for meaning, an ecumenical worldview, an ethic of caring, charitable involvement, and a sense of equanimity in difficult times.
John Wilcox sees the Catholic university as "the place where the church does its thinking," a creative partner in developing the Catholic message to today's generation. Higher education offers both an expanding wealth of knowledge and presents revelation as participation, rather than information.
The Catholic vision is based on a sacramental universe with God as its horizon, toward which all creation is moving. Since interiority is at the heart of Catholicism, individuals grow through "overcoming the divided self." Transformation is the goal, not merely career achievement. Finding our authentic self enables us to find our deepest calling or vocation, "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need."
The book is both widely researched and realistic, containing a wealth of reference material, recommended readings and frequent discussion questions for group study. Insights and details were drawn from the tradition of the De La Salle Christian Brothers' institutions of higher learning. Those responsible for the mission in Catholic universities will find Wilcox's work extremely helpful in developing their programs.
Also of interest: College and University Chaplaincy in the 21st Century: A Multifaith Look at the Practice of Ministry on Campuses across America, edited by the Rev. Dr. Lucy A. Forster-Smith. SkyLight Paths (Woodstock, Vt., 2013). 368 pp., $40.
- Sister Mona Castelazo, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has taught English for many years in Los Angeles. She is the author of Under the Skyflower Tree: Reflections of a Nun-Entity, published by iUniverse.