The Saga of St. Joseph's

A Core Curriculum That Works

The last day of January, three hours out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and I am driving across a snowy Indiana landscape under a darkening sky to fulfill a speaking assignment. Having written a book titled The Idea of a Catholic University, I have given several talks sponsored by the Commonweal Speakers Program at Catholic colleges and universities. Tonight’s talk, on the relation of Catholicism to higher education, is at St. Joseph’s College in Renssalaer, Indiana.

Driving instructions: “Off Interstate 65 onto Indiana 114; turn on Main St.; the college gate is just opposite the Walmart.” It is 5 p.m. I pass a line of barren trees and spot the looming towers of a large church to the left and a scattering of academic buildings to the right. This is St. Joseph’s, founded in 1889 by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. Today the college has a thousand students and a student-faculty ratio of fifteen to one. Sixty-eight percent of students live on its 180-acre campus; 47 percent are Catholics.

Whether or not anyone learned anything from my talk that evening, I learned a great deal at St. Joseph’s about actually doing Catholic higher education. It is all well and good to write a book about the idea of...

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About the Author

Dennis O’Brien, former president of the University of Rochester, is a longtime contributor to Commonweal.