National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 11, 2003

Program examines Catholic identity

In the late 1980s, Tom Landy sensed some sort of “imbalance” in the Catholic university setting. As a Jesuit scholastic teaching at Fairfield University, Fairfield, Conn., he saw expectations that the religious orders would carry the mission and Catholic identity confronted by a fresh reality: ever-larger lay faculties.

At the institutional level, and with Vatican II (1962-65) reforms in mind, sociologist Landy further wondered about the need to give the burgeoning lay faculty and staff some ownership of the university and responsibility for its Catholic identity.

In 1989, Landy aired the idea in America magazine. The response was enthusiastic.

Landy said a conversation developed around the idea of some sort of summer programs, perhaps, to enable new lay faculty to inquire into and better grasp what this Catholic university idea was about.

Ursuline Sr. Alice Gallen at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities gave encouragement. Even more pertinent, the Lilly Endowment was beginning to encourage issues of religion and higher education .

An initial $480,000 Lilly grant in 1992 was extremely significant, he said. “Two Lilly grants in a row helped us get established. Member schools joined in with a little bit of an endowment to fall back on during hard times, like now.”

Landy wanted the program to be part retreat and part intellectual experience, learning about the tradition. More than a decade later he admits this approach was “something of a risk,” not least because people like David O’Brien and Peter Steinfels said, “You can’t do that. It’s either got to be a retreat or it’s got to be a conference. You can’t do both.”

But Landy did.

The first meeting was at Fairfield in the summer of 1993. Forty-seven schools sent representatives.

Since then, he said, “The basic structure has stayed the same. I wanted the programs in some way to have an intellectual focus on aspects of the Catholic intellectual tradition, broadly conceived. It needed the mix of communitarian impulses along with the sacramental impulses -- so participants could see some of the depth of it and not get caught up in details.”

Landy said he hopes these presentations help faculty imagine “how in their own disciplines they might bring this mix to life and fit it into their work as a chemist or political scientist.”

Sometimes the program brings a modicum of reconciliation for faculty members “working through a longstanding difficulty with the church, though they have to spend their careers working at a Catholic college or university.” Equally, he said, Collegium programs might help faculty members who are not Catholic correct faulty perceptions they might have about the Catholic church, or to answer their question, “If I’m not Catholic do I belong in this institution at all?”

The answer to that, said Landy, is in the welcome they receive. At their colleges and university. And at Collegium.

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, April 11, 2003

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