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What Makes a College Catholic?

Every year, the National Catholic Register comes out with a Catholic identity list. Some of these schools are considered "New Catholic Colleges," some are not. What makes a school authentically Catholic? According to the NCR, at least some of these features: 

  • The university president takes an "Oath of Fidelity"
  • The majority of trustees are Catholic
  • Theology professors have the Mandatum, and take the "Oath of Fidelity"
  • "Advocates" of stem cell research, euthanasia and abortion are excluded as recipients of honorary degrees and as commencement speakers
  • Co-ed dorms are banned

There are currently 37 colleges and universities on the list, which can be found here:

What do you think about the list? Is it good for Catholic higher education, or not?

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.



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I received a Master of Arts in Theology from HACS which is located on the NCR approved list.  The school has a good distance learning program and is priced reasonably.  I never attended a Catholic school and wasn't prepared for this kind of experience and I must admit that I did not do sufficient due diligence on the school before enrolling.  BTW, I think the so-called "Cardinal Newman Society" had something to do with compiling this list.

I found the study of theology at this school very unrewarding - sources were checked to make sure they were "orthodox" and I believe I was penalized for quoting non-approved sources.  Thomas Aquinas was the only theologian we really studied (for Dogmatic Theology) and we had to analyze and quote the Summa Theologica so often I felt like I was in the cultural revolution in China waving a little red book.

We were often told that our objective was to be "good" Catholics. That wasn't my objective - I wanted to study Theology.  Interaction with fellow students was also a bit strange (from my perspective) - one student claimed to be a "Slave" of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  

I find it hard to take another school on NCR's list named  after "John Paul the Great" seriously.

Maybe it  was me who had an issue.  Don't know. I hope other readers had better experiences studying theology at Catholic Universities.  I'm sure they did. 

Hmmm. Some of those schools, while perhaps awash with "Catholic identity" (creepy term), seem to be lacking basic accredidation.

Interesting in terms of *orthodoxy* vs. the quest for learing and a full approach to *faith seeking understanding*

Not one Jesuit university

Obviously, CUA as a *pontifical* school is on the list.

University of Dallas - ultra conservative; experienced my kids having to *endure* high school religion teachers trained at UD....what a loss of opportunity, time, etc.; lack of knowledge about catholic social teachings (or very little stress); only teaching method was to memorize the catechism (and how well that works today for teenagers).

We are past the *let's only focus on Thomism or Neo-Thomism*.....where is Vatican II's influence on this list?  It is as if time stood still since 1960.

Additional comments - largest catholic university in the US is DePaul University in Chicago - Vincentian; there is also St. John's in NYC; and the Vincentians have another university in Buffalo,NY.  Don't see St. John's in Collegeville,MN....same with other Benedictine universities (with a couple of exceptions).

St. Thomas in Houston - Basilians

But, beyond that, no other order schools - whether male or female.

A couple of thoughts.  I think being a 'really Catholic' college could be a very good thing.  Apropos to a couple of the comments re: academic excellence: I suppose being a 'really Catholic' dry cleaner could also be a good thing.  But if it doesn't get the clothes clean, then it would seem to be not succeeding in its core mission, no matter how Catholic it is.

To the extent that the colleges on this list produce bright, critical-thinking graduates who are well versed in the faith and ready to bring it into the world, what's not to like?

The Catholic church is a big tent.  There should be room for a number of different educational approaches.  Some segment of the college-age members of our church want the sort of educational experience that these self-proclaimed orthodox colleges and universities provide.  Why not give it to them?  

Catholic colleges need to seek the truth using every relevant discipline they can access. Everything else will follow. It is up to them to lead. The axial age of Catholicism as a religion is over. We are moving into a post-axial age faith and moral agency phenomenon. Catholics need to to read, connect the dots, and the new reality will reveal itself. 

Lists like this are no more harmful than the Princeton Review's ratings of party schools, and less harmful than the U.S. News ratings, which many people take seriously and some admissions officers spend too much time gaming.

The standards laid out by the Register seem aimed less at engaging in the major intellectual issues of the day than in cocooning students with answers from the intellectual issues of former days. I wonder where the list-makers stand on evolution.

I would be happy if my daughters attended a Catholic College.  If one of their choices were on this list, though,  I would have  to scrutinize the school very carefully to make sure it isn't overly zealous about a narrow brand of Catholicism I don't really care for.

My daughter is looking at Catholic high schools right now; I knocked one off our list when I saw that its mission statement made a big point of saying it was "faithful to the magisterium of the Catholic Church".  And so it should be, but I took this statement to imply that maybe it thought it was somehow different than all of the other Catholic schools in that way.   I wouldn't want my daughter in that kind of environment.

So this list of authentically Catholic colleges could be helpful to those of who want a Catholic college, but not one that thinks they are the only ones truly Catholic.

Three of my four kids attended Catholic colleges -- two went to Fordham and one went to Providence. My wife and I are thoroughly displeased with Fordham even though one of our two kids was Phi Beta Kappa there.  

Of the many schools we visted, Catholic and secular, University of Dallas was the best experience (with Boston University second).  It is not "ultra-conservative".  We sat in on three classes and were impressed with the quality of the teachers and the interaction of the students.  One particularly enjoyable class was on Faulkner's "The Bear" from "Go Down Moses".  It was taught by a Cistercian. My sense was that UD was orthodox without being a "fortress school".  My son preferred NYC to Dallas.

I took one course at Holy Apostles college called "Philosophy for Theologians" and found it immensely edifying.  There's no denying, however, that they really like Aristotle and Aquinas as opposed to say, Hume and Kant. 




Having spent a considerable time at one of these 37 institutions during the hottest fervor of Ex Corde, I would observe only that, much like the U.S. News lists, this is chiefly a matter of branding and marketing, and should be regarded thus.  It's just business.

My alma mater, Loyola in Chicago, emphatically is not on the list.  Nevertheless, when I attended school there, there were some students - not a majority, but at least some - who would have fit the profile I imagine these 'orthodox' colleges want: pious in their Catholicism, and with a conservative, culture-warrior tendency in their politics.  Of course, there were other students - more than this first group - who thought the Catholic church badly needed reform, and who were quite liberal in their politics. There were also quite a few who were Catholic only in the sense of family heritage, who rolled their eyes at the theology requirements for graduation.   And there were all sorts of other types of Catholics, if we feel the urge to divide ourselves into types.  A place like Loyola attracted Catholic students from all points on the continuum (I suppose, more than one continuum).  I don't doubt the same would be true of Notre Dame, Fordham, Marquette, et al.  

Btw, the same seemed to be true of the faculty - all different types and stripes. 

Naturally, a so-called 'orthodox' Catholic student at Loyola in my day wouldn't have been in the majority.  Like the black students, the gay students, the Jewish students, and other minority groups, they seem to have done their best to survive and thrive in an environment that surely wasn't always as supportive as they would wish.  I can see that some students wouldn't want to go to a school where they are in a minority.

Some of these schools strike me as Catholic versions of Liberty U, the Jerry Falwell founded institution.  I guess it is ok, but what worries me about many is that rather than being a places of inquiry,as colleges ought to be, they have ready made answers. 

I remember back when our daughters were "college shopping" going to one Catholic university (not on this list) and reading the student newspaper about a controversey over a proposed performance of a  play by a campus group. The President had banned it from campus as not consistent with Catholic values, and the student paper wanted to present a pro and con article on the controversey.  They had a student written piece supporting the President, but couldn't find a single student willing to write the opposite point of view.  Ultimately, a junior faculty member did it in order to insure that anopposing point of view was available.  I have to say I had serious questions about open inquiry at that school when the student body was unwilling to publicly question the school administration.  Banning a well know play was troubling, but maybe could be justified.  the unwillingness of the student body and apparently even other more senior faculty to publicly question the decision even more so.  Needless to say, my daughter chose another college. 

Charles, I graduated from Fordham several (several) years ago and live nearby. I'm interested to learn why you and your wife are displeased with it. Can you elaborate?

I'm well acquainted with one of the schools, and it's been disappointing over the decades to watch it shift from what it was to what it has become.  (One example:  a famous liberal theologian, writer, journal editor, who flourished in the 30s, 40s, and 50s is forgotten now, and his name is misspelled on the list of deceased faculty.)

But the pendulum swings both ways.  In another fifty years, the school might be liberal again.

If Catholic means universal, then it's only fitting that there be schools for those who need an unchallenging enviornment in which to seek a mate.

Kudos to any college that prohibits "The Vagina Monologues".  I've read the play and it doesn't remotely approach qualifying as literature.  I've read "controversial" works ("Howl", "Last Exit to Brooklyn", "Ulysses", Celine, Bukowski, "Tropic of Cancer", etc) and "The Vagina Monologues" is infinitely inferior to the weakest of these works.  Talk about unchallenging! 

Was I the only one who laughed out loud when I got to the bottom of the list of requirements and read "Co-ed dorms are banned"? The level of mistrust and preoccupation with sexuality is too much. Why not just put all the girls in chastity belts and have done with it? 

FWIW, I lived in a co-ed dorm for a couple of years (women on the third floor, men on the second, common areas on the first), and seeing those guys wander around in their ratty bathrobes watching Bugs Bunny cartoons on Saturday morning in the TV room while eating their Capn Crunch was a sufficient romantic deterrent. So was the fact that they had noses like bloodhounds that would lead them into the common kitchen anytime we were baking cookies or making popcorn hoping for a handout like a bunch of big dumb dogs. Some we were able to view with fraternal affection. Some were just louts who were banned from the third floor (yes, we posted a list).

Agree with the *marketing* comment but, that being said:

Compare this list to Francis's encyclical today and some key phrases:

- "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity." (#94)

"One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, "sourpusses".

Yes, Mr. Ryder, Univ. of Dallas is ultra-conservative....the wars at the university have calmed between the school of theology and the school of religious ministry but only because *orthodoxy* is also owned/operated by the Dallas bishop (a cultural warrior)

Agree with the comment that most of this list reminds me of Falwell's Liberty University - it stresses not the search for faith but self-referential denominationalism.  The only *mission* is to preserve the past and its presumed orthodoxy.


Patrick McGuiness: I'm old enough to remember (maybe you know this too) that the "Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" were those who followed Father Leonard Feeney and his coterie -- the Saint Benedict Center -- in Cambridge, Massachusetts some decades ago. The invaluable Google shows me that it was a group called MICM Mancipia Immaculati Cordis Mariae (Mancipium in the singular), or “Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary”, which is the name of the Catholic order founded by a member of the Saint Benedict Center. will give you more information, including a warning against the dangers of hiring Jewish fundraisers to get money to build or re-do Catholic churches.

Feeney was excommunicated for repeating the teachings of Pope Boniface VIII that only Roman Catholics stand a chance of salvation, and though I believe he was reconciled to the church before his death, I don't know what the status of the Slaves is today.

I was shocked - shocked, I tell you! - to see that none of the east coast Jesuit schools is on the list.

Question for all those peddling the notion of "Catholic Identity" for colleges:

Is there such a thing as a "Catholic" calculus course? Do they even teach such courses at these types of colleges?

"To the extent that the colleges on this list produce bright, critical-thinking graduates who are well versed in the faith and ready to bring it into the world, what's not to like?"

Name one!

In order to make the list, the "Catholic" colleges' presidents and professors of theology must disobey Jesus' specific command against swearing oaths.

Matthew 5:34-37


I suspect that the compilers of this list would NOT agree with this man:

The university is not a think tank fed by industrial, governmental or military sources in order to churn out research in which the one common note is that the assumptions of its donors are never questioned ... It is the nature of universities to question assumptions, and indeed to the extent that such questions are absent, the university fails to achieve the fullness of its own being ... Universities are nervous about absolutes, and even more nervous about the intellectual vice known as absolutism ... Intellect and faith cannot meet on any ground where either is so much in control that the other is effectively excluded.

Timothy Healy, SJ, Learning and Belief in the Catholic University (article), "America", 7‑7‑90.

And would they be quick to hire this man to teach?

"The view taken of a University in these Discourses is the following. -- That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge.  This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement.  If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science."

J. H. Newman, from the "Preface," The Idea of a University

"As to the range of University teaching, certainly the very name of University is inconsistent with restrictions of any kind."

From Discourse II, The Idea of a University


Patrick McGuiness,

When I was enrolled at HACS, there was a faculty member who shared on his private blog that he read "Commonweal", "America", "Soujorners", etc.  He didn't have any "conservative" publications listed (maybe he had "First Things" -- I forget).  

You refer to one student who was a "Slave of the Immaculate Heart".  I don't think he was representative of the typical student.  One cheery fellow who was quite active on the boards was a self-confessed liberal.  No one ever gave him grief and the interaction with him was always pleasent.

Bill deHass,

We disagree on our assessment of U. of Dallas.  However, they cleaned house a number of years and it wasn't liberals that they got rid of in this instance (Janet Smith, Mitch Pacwa, Marcellino D'Ambrosio).  The president at the time told Pacwa that he "didn't want another Steubenville" at Dallas. Besides, calling UD "ultra-conservative" is like caling BC, Georgetown and DePaul ultra-liberal.  Can you honestly say that they're "middle-of-the-road", impartial and entirely objective?  

As far as the "mainstream" Catholic schools embracing the whole Gospel where these "orthodox" or "authoritarian" schools don't, just look at schools like Manhattan or Duquesne who have fought the attempts of adjuncts to unionize while their coffers remain swollen.  I wouldn't say that they're exactly for the little people. Manhattan attempted to hide behind its status as a Catholic school, a religious institution. Unfortunately, the National Labor Relations Board didn't quite see it that way.  To them, Manhattan didn't qualify as a religious institution.  Thank goodness it wasn't the Cardinal Newman Society that leveled such a charge.

Eileen Markey,

I am displeased with Fordham as I would be displeased with many of today's universities -- inflated cost of attendence, lack of intellectual diversity, too many marginal courses, Mumia posters in faculty offices. But the main reason is that while my kids faithfully attended Mass when they entered Fordham, now they don't.  They did for a while.  On one visit my daughter told me that she was the only one of her close friends (all Catholics) who went to Mass.  Now, according to the criteria that many on this thread subscribe to, my kids received a splendid education.  They vote democrat, they are liberal if not left-wing, and one thinks Noam Chomsky is great.  All that would be fine is they could intelligently defend their positions, but they lack argumentative skills to express why they think as they do.  I'd just be happy if they would return to frequenting the Eucharist.


Anyone know: How do the kids from the new more conservative schools fare upon graduation? I wonder if any personnel offices take a look at the grads, and think, "This kid isn't going to be able to handle working with a diverse group of people," and pass them by?


Our daughter attends UW-Madison, a very secular, and by and large liberal institution.  She has maintained her faith and active participation despite whatever contrary influences she experiences there.  Of course I can't say this is due to her attending this school.  If she were to move away from her Catholic life, I couldn't ascribe that to the university either.  I think there's something natural for young people to question and change.  Our hope is always that the roots are deep enough to hold them fast to the metaphorical earth we've created for them throughout their development. 

I think too that our responses to various influences take a longer time to manifest than we realize.  It's not as if one takes a theology course and next day views the world through a different lens.  The absorption of these lessons takes time.  There are very few young (college aged) people who can adequately defend their beliefs.  Those that do, or appear to, scare me.  Their beliefs are very rarely backed up by experience and context other than what they've read or been instructed.  Give them time. 

I'm both surprised and not surprised that the Catholic university I went to didn't make the list. Surprised because it would have answered yes to the questions that I know the answer to. Not surprised because while it is undeniably a Catholic university, it isn't as insular as some would want. I suspect that they aren't on the list because they didn't respond to the questions. The list isn't compatible with attracting a large minority of non-Catholic students.

Cathleen: or maybe the recruiter will think: "This kid will be good at doing the best job he can of exactly what we tell him to do, no more and no less. There will be no need to clean up the mess created by his ill-thought initiatives. Perfect."

I don't think recruiters are aware of the internecine issues in the Catholic Church.   A business major going for a job would not be rejected because s/he had been president of the Life Club in college.  


How graduates from any religious college fare would be an interesting question, whether they're from Ave Maria, Bob Jones, or Brigham Young. There was a recent article in the NYT Magazine about Mormon students in the entertainment industry that I found interesting:

I generally agree with Gerelyn's observation, and, further, I'm not sure that recruiters assume that those who go to colleges affiliated with a particular denomination necessarily do so for religious reasons. 

How do the kids from the new more conservative schools fare upon graduation?


Is this really the measure of quality higher education?  I would have thought it was something more akin to "have they advanced in their ability to search for and find Truth?"  And yes its capitalized because truth is just an opaque view of Truth.

University of Dallas and the Institute of Religious and Pastoral Studies:

Some clarifications:

- not sure that this is a liberal vs. conservative/Orthodox situation

- rather, the IRPS had so focused on one method of ingraining the catechism that the bishops and board wanted to move in another direction

- this call for change resulted in the IRPS totally resigning  (including M. Pacwa, SJ and Janet Smith who was not a part of IRPS)

- since that time period the university continues its initial direction and foundation - a classical education that adheres closely to Thomism, great books (narrowly defined).

Agree that the issue of governance and the role of president, Monsignor Milam, is very open to discussion, etc.  But, it is clear - " faculty and students at the University of Dallas believe that at the heart of issue there is real tension regarding the university’s Catholic identity. the current administration is antagonistic to the IRPS in its present form and there is a desire to change direction."

The outgoing IRSP dean stated: "....the current administration is more sympathetic to those who have difficulty with our emphasis on doctrine as the foundation of all pastoral activity in the Church." (my kids experienced this emphasis which led to poor teaching and poor theology classes in the diocesan high schools - example, IRPS never taught anything on the social teachings of the church - MA students went on to teach with little to no knowledge of this rich tradition and history (talk about an inablility to understand Francis today).

ISRP did get support - from bishops such as Slattery of Tulsa (big current proponent of the TLM; and Burke (no need to say more).  OTOH, Dallas bishop (owner) Grahmann had strong support locally and from neighboring dioceses that relied upon UD to provide masters level catholic school teachers.

Grahmann stated:  "The IRPS did not respond effectively to that situation,. "The whole practical side of being of service to the Church escaped the faculty members who left," he said. "They became advocates of an ideal orthodoxy and built walls that no one could penetrate."   "Departures from the IRPS were "a blessing." According to Bishop Grahmann, the diocese pulled out of the institute years ago because it had become narrowly focused on teaching Church doctrine. The diocese then started its own program to train deacons and lay ministers; now the bishop says he hopes to be able to phase out that diocesan program and move back into the IRPS.

"Now the Institute can once again do what it was founded to do," Bishop Grahmann said. "It's being allowed to return to its original mission of serving the local Church. We are changing the direction of the program."



Prof. Kaveny - good question.  Tried to use the example of the University of Dallas above - my experience and my family's experience of the MA students that graduated and then taught in Dallas Catholic high schools was not good.

Found that their teaching method was to have teenagers memorize the catechism - given today's environment, this approach only created more issues.  Students would ask questions but theology teachers were unable to explain or provide more than cursory catechism provided answers.  Their lack of historical perspective, lack of understanding of local diverse cultures (e.g. hispanic religious practices); the total unawareness of the rich catholic social teachings; their inability to understand how to convey sacramental viewpoints in school liturgies (they had no liturgical background - liturgy doesn't play much part in a dogmatic, catechism approach).

OTOH - most students I know who graduated from UD with the classical education have done well once they found jobs.  The classical education prepared them to write, analyze, use good judgment, and appreciate metaphor/analogy in human relations.  There is actually a masters level business school at UD.

I can’t think of a more sublime example of group-think non-diversity than the prejudice which would lead one to speculate that conservative students cannot handle working with a “diverse” group of people.

I think I would like my daughters to attend a school with a classical curriculum and a progressive philosophy. I think its great to learn Latin; I just don't want to worship in that language.


Mark - no kidding.

a school with a classical curriculum and a progressive philosophy.

Irene - that's a pretty fair description of Loyola when I was there, 30 years ago.  One of my children attends a Catholic college now, and it still seems accurate.  I hope it's a good descriptor for lots of other Catholic schools.



Doesn't our friend Jim P. prove that conservatives can not only play nicely with a diverse group, but actively seek out diversity of opinions? 

However, I do think that there are two fair and interesting tangential questions about religiously affiliated schools:

1. Do recruiters hold prejudices about them (favorable or unfavorable)?

2. What percentage of students seek a religiously affilated school to shelter themselves from other POVs? Some students might. And some students might merely feel that attending a Catholic college will help them navigate the larger world by strengthening their compass of faith (forgive the somewhat silly metaphor). Looking back on my college days, I sometimes wish I'd had the all-girls experience.

Never refer to the national Catholic Register as NCR those initials are already taken.

I agree with Jim Pauwel's earlier comment; to the effect that the list is a useful tool to enable students and families to make choices according to what they are really looking for. But my main question is out of the box of what constitutes a "real" Catholic college. Unless money is no object, or one wants a career in a field such as theology or religious education; what is the advantage of a Catholic college or indeed any private college/university?  I attended one year in a Catholic college, and another three in a school in our state university system.  The education received in the state school was better than what I received in the Catholic one, and cost less than half.  Of course that was a lot of years ago.  But my sons went to schools in the same state system that my husband and I did.  Both are doing fine career wise.  They had a manageable amount of student loan, paid off in a reasonable amount of time. We were able to cover a significant amount of their expenses, which wouldn't have been true of any of the Catholic colleges in the area.  Of course in going to a public university, you are on your own as far as Mass attendance and finding faith support.  But you are on your own anyway when not living under your parents' roof any more. Regarding those who remain practicing Catholics or not, just thinking of people I know, the rate seems to be at least as good if not better among those who went to public institutions as those who attended the Catholic schools.

The Cardinal Newman Society et al. might take special note of Paragraph 100 of Evangelii Gaudium:

It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?


Some of the advantages are the same as any liberal arts college, which include smaller classes that allow more intensive education, which can be especially important for writing. There is no way that a grad student from a different department who is trying to grade papers as quickly as possible is going to be able to provide the feedback that a professer is able to. The other advantages are things like theology and philosophy requirements as well as a broad opportunities to practice one's faith.

Of course, the costs are certainly a major disadvantage as well as pressures for the school to restrict the discussions of controversial subjects.

If a school is selling itself as providing a counter-cultural bubble, then its students will face questions, I think, about how they will get along with people not in that bubble- particularly if the school has a culture war edge.  Why  shouldn't they face questons--tthe schools can't have it both ways- they can't claim that they are educating a generation of resisters to the "culture of secularism and death" and complain when progressive employers don't want to hire resisters to the "culture of death," they want people who can work for a woman boss, process the benefit packages for same sex couples, etc.

I think employers check facebook and google people and credentials---good jobs are hard to find; it's a buyer's market.

So my question is very practical- how do these kids do on the job market? 





Reading through this list of schools makes one wonder if the parents who choose some of them for their children are wishing to have the college educate their children or simply indoctrinate them?  Fortunately it seems that very few parents are willing to limit their college aged children's education as severely as would be the case in many of these school, based on a quick once-over of information about them.  I didn't add up the total enrollment of the 37 schools, but doubt it exceeds 20,000 total in ALL the schools. Of the 37, there are six schools in Australia, Austria, England, and Canada, cutting the number of US schools to only 31.  There are a couple of highly specialized "graduate" schools only offering degrees in Theology or Divinity and one that offers very narrowly focused graduate degrees in psychology (with 82 students in total), cutting the number offering undergrad degrees even more.  The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies cannot be considered to be a normal college either, although at least it is part of Catholic University which is considered a "real" university.  Can a "college" which enrolls 5 undergraduates and 16 grad students (of which 4 are part-time) truly be considered a college offering "higher education"'? (Holy Spirit College)?  Our Lady Seat of Wisdom (Canada) has a total enrollment of 75, St. Mary Magdalen has 62 students total.   There were a number of schools that are not accredited; many are tiny, with fewer than 100 students enrolled. Wyoming Catholic has 112 students total, Redeemer Pacific (Canada) has 80. Living Water College of the Arts (Canada) does not reveal how many students it has, however it does not grant degrees. In 2011 it offered a handful of  classes in the summer only.

Are college level students who are confined to such a tiny and non-diverse world that does not challenge them but simply mirrors back to them what they have been carefully raised to believe really gaining a higher education that will give them the tools to think independently?  Does cocooning them encourage thinking?  These schools seem not to be intended to teach young adults how to think, but what to think.  I also could not help but notice in the photos in the ads that about 90% of the students are white of apparent anglo-saxon heritage, a couple of students may possibly be Asian or Latino heritage, and I did not see even one student who appeared to be of African American heritage.

  Like Ms. Kaveny, I would be curious to know what kinds of jobs these students obtain after graduation, and where. 

Wow, where to begin?    Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.   The use of the derogatory “bubble” does nothing so much as reveal the pervasiveness of the cultural bubble so many of us find ourselves in.   Someone outside of the bubble would never presume those with different opinions must be in a “bubble.”  They would take people as they find them, and judge them as they wished themselves to be judged, not pre-judge them.

And of all the questions a Catholic would ask in judging those students, the one asked is:

“How do these kids do in the job market”?

Not any from among the following:

What kind of men and women do these schools produce?

Do they prepare good husbands and wives, good mothers and fathers?

Do they act with integrity, or at least understand that it is important to?

Can they articulate the Catholic view?   Do they live it?

Do they understand the need to serve?

Are they comfortable in their own skin?


You will know them by their fruits.

"If a school is selling itself as providing a counter-cultural bubble, then its students will face questions, I think, about how they will get along with people not in that bubble- particularly if the school has a culture war edge."  

If a Notre Dame graduate goes for a job, will the human resources person reject her because she attended a school where many faculty/alumni/students felt the President of the United States should be barred from speaking?  

"Why  shouldn't they face questons--tthe schools can't have it both ways- they can't claim that they are educating a generation of resisters to the "culture of secularism and death" and complain when progressive employers don't want to hire resisters to the "culture of death," they want people who can work for a woman boss, process the benefit packages for same sex couples, etc."

A graduate of a Catholic college who was unwilling to work for a woman boss would have been instructed in her/his business courses to prepare for the application/interview process by doing some research on the company.   

"I think employers check facebook and google people and credentials---good jobs are hard to find; it's a buyer's market.

"So my question is very practical- how do these kids do on the job market?"

And what about the marriage market?  They marry each other, some immediately after graduation.  In the Catholic Church there should be room for all levels of sophistication.  Some of the graduates of the colleges find employment as teachers/coaches at Catholic high schools and colleges that share their schools' views.  Others find employment in companies that are not interested in the squabbles that may seem more important to "card-carrying Commonweal contributors" but not to those ouside the bubble.

One of the schools on the list has some job openings, if anyone's looking:






  • No positions open at this time. 



Mark, your questions cannot be answered with data. Better ask questions that can give answers, for example, to evaluate what they do in the world afterwards

-  how many get jobs

- how many get jobs working for the church

- how many become priests

- how many become monks, nuns, religious brothers or sisters

- how many get married in the church

- how many children they have

- what percentage of their children have Down syndrome (a proxy to estimate the abortion rate by comparing that rate to the natural rate)



Claire, your questions are not easily answered about any colleges, whether or not they are "counter-cultural bubble[s]."  

Pick a college/university at random, Catholic or not, and try to find information about how many graduates got jobs.  

Where do they work?  What are they paid?  What kind of jobs do they hold?  How long did it take to find a job?  How many applications/interviews before landing a job?  

How long after graduation would you wait to ask them how many Down syndrome children they have and how long those who became priests or religious persevered?



Yours are the questions of a scientist.   Granted, they allow for more precise answers, but we can only see through them darkly to the answers of the more important questions.   While it’s true no school can credibly claim it produces better, say, mothers than another school I can tell you that, having recently done the college tour, if I were to ask some schools if they try to produce good mothers they would respond absolutely yes, they do.   Others schools would look at me as if I were from another planet. 

Which of the two types of schools do you think children would wish their mom graduated?

Well, no doubt these children, recognizing that "it’s true no school can credibly claim it produces better, say, mothers than another school," probably wouldn't give a shit. Ask them whether they want to watch another episode of Curious George or bush their teeth for bed, and they'll probably have loads of opinions.

Good God, Lemon! If you acknowledge that a school can't "credibly claim" that it produces moms of a certain quality, then shouldn't you be suspicious of a school that sold itself on such a claim?

"Here at Saint Eustache the Penitent, we may not have accreditation, but we sure do produce women who know how to cut the crust off sandwiches!"

I also looked around at colleges not so long ago, and wanted a college that

1. had a good academic reputation 

2. was "affordable"

3. was a place where my children would enjoy studying, and

4. was close enough to home that they could, should they wish to do it, go back home for the weekend without having to fly

I could have continued my wish list, of course, but satisfying those conditions was already hard enough!

Claire--Tell me about it!!

Abe--I'm happy to respond, but will wait until it's clear your comment will not be deleted.

This ain't Thomas Aquinas College, people can handle it.

Also, it strikes me as being pretty disengenuous to deny that these schools offer bubbles, since it's pretty clear that the bubbles they provide are what they are highlighting in their efforts to sell themselves. The whole point of this questionnaire is to put a spotlight on the fencing surrounding the institution: the membrane is what is being shown off!

I'm surprised that nobody else has commented on the fact that this guide actually consists in large part of glossy ads for the schools. It would be interesting to know more about how that process worked: who paid whom, and how much? This really seems like a circular process of one hand washing the other.


Ok, I just thought the implication that being a good mother could be reduced to properly preparing sandwiches might upset many women.  Anyway, it’s recently become apparent to me that some of my comments are taken much more literally than I mean them.    For example, when I said:

Which of the two types of schools do you think children would wish their mom graduated?

I did not mean that children should be asked this question.   What I meant was, in the abstract, would you prefer that your (hypothetical, future) mother graduate from a school that thought being a good mother was important, and tried to instill those values in young women?    Would you prefer as a mother a woman who would be attracted to this type of school?    Perhaps not, but I think, again, in the abstract, many people would.

I will agree with you that I would look askance at any school that claimed it produced better mothers than other schools, but I would look with favor on a school that thought trying to help women become good mothers was important.


Not meaning to tag-team here, but what do we mean by "good" mother? A woman who eschews artificial contraception, is ever and always open to life no matter what, home-schools her children if she can't afford Catholic school, raises her children Catholic, and sees keeping them in the faith as her Prime Directive?

Throwing adjectives like "good" and "comfortable in their skin" and "able to articulate the Catholic view" sound like pious and worthy goals on a superficial level, but they strike me as meaningless if they aren't defined in more measurable ways.

I would also suggest that those schools, assuming they can define these criteria more concretely, will have a hard time with students who are not already on their way to being "good," "comfortable in their skin," "able to articulate the Catholic view," etc. In other words, the college is just finishing the job the kids learned at home. 

Finally, I think schools that become preoccupied with the moral goals of the institution distract themselves from academic rigor and inquiry. If there is a budget, and a percentage of it has to be spent making sure the boys and girls are all in their proper beds at night and their butts in church on Sunday, it has fewer funds to put into academic pursuits. That's fine if the aim of the institution is to put morality first. There is probably a market for that type of thing.

I feel like there's some sort of dog whistle in those questions, Mark, because I suspect that any school that has actually actively formulated a pedagogy of motherhood probably has a worldview that I would find alienating. (Thus, basically, I would answer no to your question: No, I wouldn't want a mother who had been formed by that type of school).

ISTM that parents who send their kids to the Ave Maria sort of college assume that the college will be what "sets" their children's moral and religious values. From my experience teaching philosophy in a Catholic college to kids from mainly conservative Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, I'd say that those parents are guilty of wishful thinking.

Adolescents by their very nature rebel.  God made them to criticize their parents and the older generations.  Criticism of received wisdom is how progress in thinking is done.  (Yes, it also risks making new mistakes.)  Until a person feels that he or she has honestly rebelled, i.e.,  looked as objectively as possible at what has been taught at home, the person's set of values had NOT YET been jelled. 

Sure, the kids in those "protective" schools will not unchallenged by dissent at their schools, and they might retain their old beliefs for a while, but sooner or later they will insist on looking at the opposition.  God made them that way,  Sometimes the opposition won't win their minds and hearts, but sometimes it will.  I've already read of studies that show that kids from those schools are also starting to leave the Faith in large numbers.

Ultimately, you cannot protect your kids from themselves, their friends and the world.  You can only hope to give them the tools and good example they need to think as objectively as possible.  Then pray.  


Well, a Catholic college does not need to actively formulate a pedagogy of motherhood to teach the importance of the virtues that make a good mother (father/husband/wife).   Though I don’t doubt you would not look favorably on the NCR list (sorry Ed), something tells me you would want a school to develop the whole person, in whichever way you think best.   Otherwise, what are colleges but obscenely overpriced vo-tech schools?

Remember when it was the liberals who wanted to change the world for the better, and conservatives who only cared about getting ahead?    Now it seems to be just the opposite.

Where have all the flower (children) gone?

I don't give a fuck about this liberal/conservative beef that you want to trot out in nearly every thread, Mark, so don't bother. I am a Quebecer; my experience of political dynamics just doesn't really involve that discourse, even if it is the bread and butter of what you're used to. Our culture wars involves a different set of fronts than yours.

As for this idea of university developing the whole person--well, I am dubious. It's not as though only nutball Catholic schools promote themselves on that basis; I went to a "great books" school (yes, there is some overlap in approaches), and the experience has led me to believe that higher ed institutions should opt for a light touch when it comes to setting forth a program for forming their students. People go to university for a lot of reasons, and while I think schools should promote things such as the appreciation of some depth/breadth in learning, the development of critical thinking and expression, and disciplined work, I just don't think that many schools should go beyond that.

Here's the thing: I fully recognize that there are always going to be prospective students who want a university experience geared toward "the whole person" in a way that goes beyond a light touch. More power to them. You see, I really don't have a problem with the endeavour of this list, because I recognize it as an exercise both in marketing and the maintenance of some cultural boundaries (the two things work together). I have no respect for their philosophies of education, and despise their rhetoric, but they are exercising those things in a very closed circle to which I don't belong. They have a demographic--one that they'd like to expand, no doubt--but they are mainly just trying to sell their wares to their base.

I don't know if anyone is still reading comments on this topic, as it's now rolled off the first page of the blog, but I want to call attention to this write-up by George Weigel on a college evangelization movement called Focus.

Focus wasn't around during my college days - at least not that I ever ran across - but I have run across several young missionaries from the movement who have been members of our parish, and I've been impressed.   I suppose that people on this blog, by and large, would consider them to be conservative.  The fruits of the movement, though, as Weigel describes them, are pretty undeniable.  

My view is that Focus is one expression  - a so-called conservative expression - of a deeply embraced Catholic way of life.  And the idea of giving up a few years of one's life to be a missionary is redolent of the traditional missionary orders - it seems deeply Catholic to me.


Jim P. --

FOCUS isn't your ordinary grassroots student movement.  There's some big money behind it.  And from what I've read of it, it aims to produce powerful Catholic leaders, with the emphasis on power.  The group has a program called "the Gree Sysem".  It's not about Greek culture, it's about infiltrating fraternities and sororities because that where the future powerful people are to be found, and FOCUS  hopes to influence them to the good.  No, that's not all it's about, but it's the patent play for power, even if it is hopefully religious, that turns me off.  But let FOCUS speak for itself:


"Students in the Greek System across the nation are arguably some of the most influential leaders on college campuses across the United States of America. Over 85% of the students in campus leadership on 730 campuses are members of Greek-letter organizations. Greeks on college campuses today have potential to be the most influential leaders not only on their campuses but of the next generation of our world. FOCUS has recognized this potential and thus FOCUS Greek has risen to bring the light of the Gospel to this subculture on campuses across the FOCUS movement.

.  .  .  

"FOCUS Greek exists to revolutionize Greek culture for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church that impacts today, tomorrow, and eternity through raising up a transformed generation of fraternity and sorority leaders convicted to bring truth to the world."


Talk about liberal elitism!  These conservatives beat the liberal elitists handsdown.  No smelling of sheep for them.

Oops == should be  http:   not httpl

Hi, Ann, based on the link you provided, it appears to me that Focus Greek is one particular program under the overall Focus umbrella.  

FWIW, my own experience of campus life - this would have been in the years shortly after the film Animal House left its cultural footprint - was that fraternity brothers were, by and large, a clutch of drunken idiots (which is to say, they were pals of mine), and the notion that fraternities were a hothouse for future leaders would have been comical.  They were more like a nursery school for future sales reps.  Although some of the sorority members I knew did rise to leadership positions after college.  I'd say that the Greek culture, at least in my day, would have been really ripe for evangelizing.

At any rate, the Focus folks I've met don't strike me as fraternity types.  They're certainly not about power and wealth.  Really, it's quite the opposite: they're living lives of Catholic poverty and humility.  


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