Symposium discusses role of Catholic universities

Veronica Colon

As part of the inaugural celebrations of the 32nd president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., an academic symposium was held Thursday in the Villanova Room in the Connelly Center.

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, Th.D., professor of religion and public life at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, contributed to the symposium’s theme, “Veritas in Action: A Symposium on the Responsibilities of the Catholic University in the 21st Century”-a challenge that Hehir asserted “means not only opportunity, but necessity.”

A former CEO of Catholic Charities U.S.A., Hehir stressed the importance of an “institution” as a vehicle for unifying faith and intellect and better serving the American community.

“We can’t rely only on the genius of individuals,” Hehir said. “We must create a lasting entity that creates a sense of permanence.”

Hehir also cited the Church’s responsibility to produce both disciples of the Kingdom and citizens of society and to preserve, develop and foster the intellectual, moral and social natures of its followers.

Beginning with the intellectual aspect, Hehir stated that faith goes beyond, not below, reason, and that the challenge is demonstrating that they are co-dependent. He posed the question, “What does Jerusalem have to say to Athens?”

Hehir went on to say that the Church must speak to non-Catholics and give them insight into our faith.

“The person is sacred, consecrated by an act of God and sanctity of Jesus Christ,” he said.

He also spoke to the agnostics and scientific minds of the world, saying that faith enlightens reason and promotes it from knowledge to wisdom.

“In history, mystery is unintelligible-in the Catholic faith, mystery is infinitely intelligible,” Hehir said, adding later, “Knowledge is a human product-wisdom is a human truth. This implies a moral undertone, something possibly not a human product.”

The social nature of the Church, Hehir said, involves how we are to exemplify that unity between faith and reason.

Rev. Hehir then began to discuss some of the exact challenges that American society poses to the Catholic university.

He categorized American society as being “the world’s laboratory” in which the people face numerous conflicts, such as the one between integration and globalization. He recalled the events of Sept. 11 and posed the question, “What do we do about a creeping chaos?”

Hehir stressed the importance of building a web that stretches beyond national bonds-one that also further distinguishes between church and state, civil and moral law.

“It is the University’s responsibility to lead intellectual life, institutional posture and community development.”

A response to Hehir’s lecture was given by the Rev. Kail C. Ellis O.S.A., Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Sally J. Scholz, Ph.D., professor in the department of philosophy.

Scholz cited Vilanova’s commitment to the whole person, family, environment and poor and discussed how a “challenge can also be a moment of promise.”

After opening the floor to questions and comments, such issues as the cost of a Catholic university education and the decline in vocations were discussed.

As the symposium came to a close, Hehir reiterated his stance on the role of the Catholic university in this day and age and commented on Villanova’s performance so far.

“Institutions aren’t places we think, they are places we live,” he said. “Students are introduced to ideas and ways of life that have a lasting effect, and I think that you are in good hands facing things here at Villanova.”