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Gonzaga Alumni’s 1887 Trust: Fighting to Preserve Catholic Identity at the University

Gonzaga Alumni’s 1887 Trust: Fighting to Preserve Catholic Identity at the University

Fr Lawrence Lew OP

Matthew Archbold - published on 11/13/13

The professor of law at Gonzaga University's law school weighs in on the increasing problem of universities founded with religious missions becoming secular.

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Gonzaga University doesn’t always have to be Catholic, said Dr. David DeWolf, professor of law at Gonzaga University’s law school, in an article published by the 1887 Trust, an organization committed to strengthening the Jesuit University’s Catholic identity.

He pointed to other colleges and universities, which were created with a religious mission, but in time, became secular universities.

“As Yale ceased to be Congregationalist, and Duke ceased to be Methodist, Gonzaga could cease to be Catholic,” he said. “It would happen because the will to be different was replaced by the will to fit in with the rest of the crowd and the path of sameness was chosen rather than the path of distinctiveness.”

DeWolf wrote that he prays that this will not happen at Gonzaga, but added that “we can only reap the benefits of being Catholic if we are willing to do the work that is required to be Catholic.”

In an exclusive interview with Catholic Education Daily, DeWolf elaborated and said that this problem is not only at Gonzaga but occurring now at many Catholic institutions.  He added that the bishops share at least some of the blame.

“The bishops would understandably prefer a positive relationship with the universities in their dioceses—institutions that were there before they arrived and will continue after they leave—and they are reluctant to be perceived as the ‘bad guy’ who picked a fight with them,” he said. “The bishop should be actively involved in the life of an institution that claims to be ‘ex corde ecclesiae’—from the heart of the church. And if it is drifting in the wrong direction, he needs to be pro-active in setting it on the right course.”

He admitted that sometimes the situation is complicated when a college or university is operated by a religious order that does not answer directly to the bishop.  But he said that ultimately the bishop is responsible for declaring which institutions in his diocese deserve to call themselves “Catholic.”

DeWolf pointed to the recent canon law petition against Georgetown as a positive step.  “But,” he added, “it shouldn’t require the complaints of lay people to bring these matters to the bishop’s attention.”

One of the major issues Catholic colleges face he said, is hiring Catholic faculty. A recent editorial in the student newspaper posited “it is not imperative that Gonzaga keeps a majority Catholic faculty in order to honor its Catholic identity.” It touted the importance of “diversity.”

DeWolf countered in his piece posted on the 1887 Trust’s website, saying:

As a Catholic university we have the potential to invite diversity of many kinds—across boundaries of race, ethnicity, income, citizenship, and gender, among others. And from the time of its founding to the present day, the Christian faith has done more to promote true diversity than any other human institution. But what helps people to overcome barriers such as race or gender is to have something in common that causes them momentarily to forget their differences. The history of entertainment and sports shows how devotion to a common cause sped the process of breaking down racial barriers. Similarly, a university that is more Catholic, more united in its central mission, will naturally result in more diversity in every other category. But it will be a true diversity, as described in 1 Corinthians 12, wherein St. Paul reminds us that there is a diversity of gifts, but one Spirit. It does not mean the politically correct version of diversity in which there are multiple appearances, but an unforgiving uniformity of thought.

DeWolf told Catholic Education Daily that some Catholic colleges and universities have sadly reached the point where there’s a dominant anti-Catholic majority. DeWolf said he’d like to see the bishops make compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae mandatory, asking, “Unless a university is in compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae or has a plan for getting there, why should they be called Catholic?”

Originally published by The Cardinal Newman Society's Catholic Education Daily on 11 November 2013.

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