How important is your Madonna e-mail?

Truth in education

Your views

The Madonna Herald accepts letters to the editor. 

If you have a gripe about campus, or have a response to something we’ve printed,

please send a note to:

All letters are subject to minor editing  and should be limited to 300 words or less.


School must maintain connection to a Church tradition

By Paul Radzilowski

Recently, there has been some debate at Madonna and in the pages of this newspaper about what it means for Madonna to be a Catholic school, and how this may or may not obligate students, faculty, or staff. 

True to type, being a historian, I think it is useful to put the issue in some historical perspective.

For centuries, the main purpose of universities was twofold: to promote excellence in the pursuit of knowledge, and to support the Church by providing clergy who were well-versed in both faith and reason. 

For the first several centuries of the existence of Western universities (in the Middle Ages) this meant the Catholic Church, and after the Protestant reformation—other denominations, too. 

In Early American history the situation was the same: almost all major colleges universities, including state universities, were either founded by a given denomination, or with the help of a coalition of clergy from several. 

Yet with the deepening of a secularizing trend in education that came originally from the 18th century Enlightenment, this model of higher education was radically modified to remove or play down the specifically religious function of the university. 

Most religious colleges and universities in our country have followed this trend; Catholic Schools have travelled the road somewhat more slowly, but have travelled it nonetheless, and arguably, with increasing speed recently.

The significance of this universal trend is that a special effort must be made in modern times to maintain a school’s connection to a Church tradition, or surely it will be lost with time.   Madonna can be no exception.

Can this connection be sufficiently maintained here, as a recent columnist seemed to suggest, by the fact that our sponsoring body is the Felician Sisters, that nuns teach here, that some classes begin with a prayer, and that the school is named after Jesus’ mother? 

I respectfully submit it is not, because (as the late John-Paul II pointed out) it doesn’t get to the heart of what a university does: forming minds, and engaging various fields of knowledge. 

What is needed, rather, is a very special respect for the particular intellectual tradition of the Church, as well as the basis on which that tradition is built: i.e. a particular faith (not to mention a confidence in human reason to discover the truth).

Some may object: “But does this not mean that we all have to be Catholic, that we cannot forthrightly examine ideas contrary to the teachings of the Church, that we are forced to dichotomize the world in terms of black and white, and that we cannot respect a wide variety of people of different backgrounds and beliefs?” 

The answers: no, no, no and again no!

One of the great advantages of the academic endeavor is that it can allow us to explore ideas without necessarily advocating them! 

This is rigorous and difficult, but it yields great rewards, and it is one of the proper jobs of the university. 

And even though advocacy for certain positions contrary to the sponsoring religion will be out of place, there will certainly be many areas of public service to the wider community that should be acceptable to all, or nearly all.

And surely we can and must deal with all the shades the world really has: black, and white, as well as the many kinds of grey?  

Catholicism is not contrary to this (I believe it is a great help to it, in fact), and it certainly recommends a due respect for all persons, as many Church documents have pointed out.

In the coming years, Madonna may have to make a decision as to what kind of Church ties it wishes to maintain; if it decides to maintain them at all, I hope they will be of the substantive kind I have sketched in this essay.

Radzilowski teaches in the Department of History.