We have been searching for some two years for a property that could serve as our campus in Ireland. There are a number of factors that must be considered. First, it must be in a diocese in which the local bishop welcomes the new institution. Under Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the bishop has only limited responsibility for institutions that are initiated by lay Catholics, but he [must] permit the institution to designate itself as Catholic.
Beyond that, he is expected to receive an oath of fidelity from the senior administrator, the campus minister, and the theology faculty, and to give a “mandatum” to those teaching theology, certifying that they have the qualification to teach in fidelity to the Magisterium.
What else counts when finding a campus?
Other factors are a location near enough to town or city such that the faculty and students can have easy access to schools, shopping, public transportation, and entertainment, but outside a city center with its many distractions. The facilities need to be ready for occupancy, with no need for major, time-consuming, and costly renovations. It should also have space for classrooms, a chapel, library, offices, and sports [facilities]. They must not only be adequate for an initial group of students, but also have the potential for future expansion as the student body grows.
So when does NCI start? Or are you waiting?
We thought it important to get started, and since we had not yet settled on a campus site in Ireland, we began looking at other opportunities. An ideal one turned out to be the Rome program of Thomas More College of Merrimack, New Hampshire. It is a small, but very fine liberal arts college, fully accredited, and has for years run a “semester abroad” program in Rome. I learned of it when I was president of Ave Maria University, and we sent some students to it. The TMC leadership was very willing to accommodate NCI students, and helped us develop a curriculum for a full year of core liberal arts courses that they also accredit. Of course, beginning in Rome, the center of the Church for nearly two thousand years, is fitting for a Catholic institution.
What’s a day in the life of an NCI student going to be like?
Our students will hear lectures by eminent Catholic scholars that will inspire them and lead them to cherish the life of the mind; they will take part in class discussions of the great issues that are facing us. Students will explore the great art and architecture of Rome and take weekend, guided excursions to places such as Assisi, Venice, Florence, and Naples. Daily Mass is easy to attend in Rome, and we expect most, if not all, of our faculty, staff, and students will want to participate in it, and in the many spiritual opportunities which will naturally be present in and near Rome. We expect them to dine often with faculty and staff, and to make friendships that will last a lifetime.
Coming back to what you hinted at earlier, can you tell me what challenges you’re preparing your students to face in the modern world?
For NCI students, the most critical challenge is to devote themselves to higher-level studies so as to better understand, appreciate, and be able defend the truth of Catholicism—both in the intellectual and practical realms. The Church has been under severe attack in recent decades, and the attack shows no sign of abating. What the benefactors of NCI wish to support is serious students who will rise to the challenge of developing themselves in knowledge and critical thinking to respond to these challenges. We are confident that we have found such young people for our inaugural class. The students, in turn, will need witnesses to the beauty of the Faith as it is lived out by the faculty and staff. We want to teach the students that the Catholic moral life, now widely disdained and ridiculed, can be lived, and lived joyfully.
Would you say the focus is purely on the Catholic Faith, its doctrines and dogmas?
Beyond recovering the moral teaching of the Church, Western societies need to preserve, and again learn, to treasure the art, music, literature, and architecture bequeathed to us by Christendom. What is at stake is not only the treasures of Western Civilization, but the political rights and freedoms that derive from that tradition.