While Sen. John McCain’s visit to campus has received most of the buzz this week, another significant and ongoing visit is Pope Benedict XVI’s first trip to the United States. This is the first time that a pontiff has visited an American university since 1979 when John Paul II came to The Catholic University of America. As a part of his six-day visit, Benedict will visit CUA today to deliver an address on Catholic higher education to a crowd of 200 Catholic educators and university presidents from around the country, including our very own Father Peter.
In a Catholic News Service article, Richard Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, speculated that Benedict, in his address, might emphasize the progress made by colleges and the growing secular changes they face. He also noted that Catholic campuses today are different than they were 20 years ago when John Paul II spoke about the same topic at CUA because they must now focus on global issues and because international students make up a larger percentage of the student body.
Yanikoski’s statement is a sound analysis of Villanova. We, as a university, now face that exact predicament: how to keep our identity as a Catholic institution while competing with a secular world and academia in particular.
The University has received much negative attention from Catholics, educators and even alumni regarding the choices that it has made regarding speakers on campus, particularly for hosting the ideas of Obama, a pro-choice candidate. The University seems to be moving in a more progressive direction and people are starting to notice. Though it is growing in academics and in diversity, some argue that Villanova is moving farther away from its Catholic roots.
“I believe that Villanova must give students the opportunity to think about a wide range of issues and perspectives on facing the kinds of problems that are so critical today,” said Fr. Dan Doyle, O.S.A., assistant professor of theology and religious studies. “Hence, Obama, Clinton and McCain should all be welcome here to give their perspectives. Nevertheless, Villanova has to be careful not to follow the example of so many other universities which were originally church affiliated, i.e. Brown, Princeton and Yale, but have long since become simply secular.”
The obvious sentiment from both students and professors is that Villanova should remain faithful to its Augustinian tradition but also encourage the exposure and discussion of other ideas that are not specifically Catholic in order to remain competitive as a national university and to contribute to its students’ comprehensive learning.
The pope’s address today may or may not address orthodoxy at American Catholic universities, but it will no doubt praise the efforts of Catholic educators in this country. We are not all Catholic at Villanova, but whether we like it or not, we contribute to the future and reputation of Catholic higher education. Despite what others may say, we are definitely moving in a positive direction.