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Click here for free trial login. Georgetown has been open to students of all faiths since its founding, but, as recently as 30 years ago, 82 percent of entering freshmen defined themselves as Catholic. Close to 23 percent identified themselves as Protestant, just over five percent were Jewish, and nearly 22 percent professed other faiths or no religion at all.
Even its relationship with the Society of Jesus is loose. This was not always the case. Most of the schools affiliated with religious orders, Georgetown included, severed their formal links and incorporated themselves as independent entities with lay-dominated, self-perpetuating boards. This all happened at a time when the ranks of the religious orders themselves were in steep decline: during the s and s, there were mass resignations from Catholic religious orders—and a paucity of new vocations that persists to this day.
Back then members of the religious orders handled much of the teaching, even on secular subjects; merely by strolling the grounds they lent their campuses uniquely Catholic auras. Yet, with their numbers reduced and with many academic clerics and nuns adopting lay garbs, this background-noise Catholicism faded. Today, although a substantial Jesuit community still resides on the Georgetown campus, only 35 of the priests hold faculty or administrative appointments. Also gone is a distinctively Catholic curriculum.
At the beginning of this century, Catholic universities distinguished themselves from their secular cousins by focusing on undergraduate education to the near exclusion of research as well as offering highly structured, European-style liberal arts programs that included a thorough grounding in classical languages and theology. Although the curricula at Catholic colleges gradually became less rigid as the twentieth century progressed, liberal arts and Greek and Latin remained at their core.
But that approach eventually fell out of favor, and the glut of G.
Today, only the residual requirement of a few lower-level theology or religion courses distinguishes the curricula at most Catholic schools from those of secular universities. But they do not explain why the campus crucifixes nearly vanished at Georgetown and some other Jesuit schools, including Boston College, or why several current and former faculty members and administrators at Georgetown clearly did not want to talk about crucifixes when I interviewed them for this story.
No, the institutional unease stemmed from two other factors.
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One is a lingering inferiority complex on Catholic campuses, left over from the pre-Vatican II era, when the quality of education at American Catholic universities was perceived as—and in many cases was—inferior. Thus, in the eyes of many, to reverse the trajectory of secularization is to return to the bad old days of being second-rate. The Jesuit order itself went through an ideological turnabout after Vatican II and now has a reputation as one of the most theologically, socially, and politically liberal Catholic bodies. Furthermore, the presidents of American Catholic colleges, Jesuit and non-Jesuit alike, are nearly unanimously opposed to efforts to exert official episcopal control over their institutions.
Distinctively Catholic: An Exploration of Catholic Identity, by Daniel…
When a draft report from a task force set up by the U. The college presidents liked those vaguer parameters, and so did the U. However, before we begin, we need to know approximately how much money are we dealing with here? What will it take to buy back the institution we knew and still love? Are you deeply offended by my question?
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You should be. Finally, I ask you directly the question I have been asking all along. What does this say about who we are as people? I ask because I care. I ask because I hope that future generations of St. Francis University students can experience the same academic freedom and possibilities to explore their human potential that I did. And I eagerly await your response, even if you think I am wrong. Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here. Join now. Blog Distinctly Catholic.
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