Why has there been a rise in liberal arts colleges and universities in recent decades?
Academic institutions, not unlike religious orders, seem to go through cycles of growth and spiritual (and intellectual) dynamism, followed by spiritual dryness and institutional decay. The history of religious orders exemplifies this, and when decay or entropy sets in, new orders arise or older ones are reformed. Something similar has happened to Catholic colleges and universities. A number of them have lost their Catholic identity—in reality if not in name. As new students and their parents became aware of the spiritual decline, the opportunities are there for new institutions to be successful. A few of the older schools have been able to restore their Catholic identity and revitalize their mission. Yet, by their nature institutions of higher learning are hard to reform, and it may actually be less daunting to initiate a new one then achieve a meaningful reform of an older one.
Ireland’s been Catholic for centuries, and brought the Faith to other continents. Does Ireland need NCI?
It is by now generally acknowledged that Irish society has experienced one of the steepest declines in the practice and knowledge of the Catholic faith in the modern era. The reasons for this are complex, and will probably not be fully understood for many decades, if ever. It suffices to say that a nation that until relatively recently was thought of as the most Catholic in the world is now rapidly becoming secularized, with the Church on the defensive in such critical social issues as abortion and marriage. In the U.S., a similar degree of secularization overtook many Catholic institutions, but the strong American tradition of grassroots activism produced a counter-movement. Thus, we have the Newman Guide colleges and universities (some new, and others which restored their Catholic identity), EWTN, Ignatius Press, Catholic radio, and a number of very vigorous pro-life organisations. What Ireland needs is a Catholic intellectual center, one that can take on the challenges to the Faith at the deepest levels, one that will produce a cadre of well-educated young people on fire for the faith, and willing to take on the reigning cultural nihilism. NCI can, God willing, become that.
Why Newman, an Englishman through and through?
We took the name of Newman for the simple reason that Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was the first Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, Ireland’s first Catholic university. In preparation for the task assigned to him, he gave a series of lectures, which were the basis for his classic "The Idea of a University." This is our inspiration and foundational guide.
Will NCI cater toAmericans studying abroad, or to the Irish?
It is fundamentally for Irish students. The managing board are majority Irish, and we are appealing to Irish-Americans on the basis of helping the Church in Ireland by giving Irish students a first rate and authentically Catholic education. In future years, we may well expand the student body to include students from other countries. For example, some American students might do a “study abroad” program for a semester or a year in Ireland. We are not a seminary, nor for the foreseeable future, would we be offering graduate programs in theology or philosophy. Hence, we would not expect clergy to enroll. However, we would expect vocations to the priesthood and religious life, sorely lacking in Ireland at present. When the faith is taught by those who believe it and live it, it is extraordinarily attractive.
Ambitious plans are going to require a base. Where will your campus be?