Catholic higher education: Recognizing the ‘bait and switch’

Catholic schools have always played an integral role in the lives of many. However, at times, it is not until college that some valuable lessons are learned.

Catholic schools are meant to instruct and strengthen students in mind, body, and soul. Those of us who experienced such an education know the sacrifice that families make to provide their children with this opportunity. It is true that Catholic schools are an investment. However, the benefits are truly out of this world.

When one begins the journey in Catholic elementary school, the prayers and sacraments are learned. As one’s education continues, one becomes more aware of the distinction of what it means to be Catholic. Students and teachers celebrate feast days, and the lives of those we venerate captivate our attention and embolden our spirits.

Attending Catholic school is a privilege which should foster a strong sense of belonging to this unique community that is the Body of Christ. Not only do we call upon Jesus, Mary, and the saints during moments of trial, we seek out ways to live out our faith in our daily lives.

Catholic high schools are called to fill us with insight and engage us more deeply in sacred scripture, Church history, morality, and social justice. And when the time comes to choose a college, we should be encouraged to continue our education at a Catholic university. It is at this time, however, that one must truly discern the right path, for not all that seems Catholic is Catholic when it comes to higher education.

Arriving on a Catholic college campus brings aspirations of expanding on the previous 12 years of catechesis. Yet some experience just the opposite. Heads soon become filled with doubt. Instead of growing in their sense of Catholic identity, they become skeptical, questioning the wisdom of the Church. Even fellow classmates (many of whom are also Catholic) entertain and embrace these new ways of thinking.

The essence of Catholic higher education includes professors (and administrators) who desire to pick up where previous instructors left off, but always keeping the Catholic faith intact in the process. There is the anticipation and excitement of guiding students in deciphering and defending the Catholic faith amidst a relativistic culture often highly condemning of it.

Today, however, many students sadly embark on a scholarly journey in a Catholic college riddled with endorsements of a less than Catholic approach to society and life. This is often performed in efforts to promote a more “comfortable” atmosphere for students. Unfortunately, this even occurs within their trademark department: Theology.

Students sit and listen as teachings and practices regarding the liturgy are altered, and moral teaching on issues such as abortion, contraception, human sexuality, and marriage are mocked. Being “nice” is the new norm and it comes at the expense of being less Catholic. We have heard the stories about how some stores lure unsuspecting customers in by offering special deals and certain types of merchandise. Once the patron enters, however, the sales personnel go to work with deviant tactics drawing their attention towards something else. I found that some Catholic institutions operate in a similar manner. They herald themselves as Catholic but have little intention of delivering on this promise to their unsuspecting students.

Proverbs 27:17 inspires us with an understanding that “iron sharpens iron.” Authentically Catholic colleges emulate this. There is a feeling of confidence and competence that exists on these campuses. Students, professors, and administrators alike uphold the truths of the Catholic Church. They do not do so because it feels good; they do so because it is good. They recognize that Catholic is what Catholic does and therefore never compromise for the sake of popular opinion.

Furthermore, they neither water down nor subdue the wisdom of our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Opportunities for Bible study, faith households, perpetual adoration, liturgy, frequent Confession, retreats, and Catholic service projects (along with athletics and social clubs) create bonds that connect each and every one to the eternal source of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Class lectures are conducted in a manner that demonstrates a relationship between faith and reason and exhibits their complimentary aspects. Scholarly discourse provides opportunities for spiritual and intellectual growth. Moreover, students are validated in their moral integrity and not subjected to ridicule or intimidation. This is where Catholic colleges and universities are called to make their presence known and their contributions felt. Why do so many continue to deviate?

As mentioned earlier, a Catholic education is an investment with benefits that are out of this world. The ultimate goal of any Catholic academic institution should be to provide truth that will enable and inspire those within to attain Heaven. Fortunately, these schools exist, and I am fortunate to be a part of one that ranks among them.

TODD NOLAN is an admissions counselor at Ave Maria University. He earned a Master of Arts in theology from Catholic Distance University and has written and spoken on issues related to catechesis, youth ministry, and Catholic education.

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