The Catholic University of America

John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America, discusses how to build a great Catholic university which upholds both academic freedom and fidelity to mission in Commonweal Magazine. See below.

What Makes a University Catholic?

From: Commonweal
Date: Jan. 26, 2017
Author: John Garvey and Mark W. Roche


The blueprint for building a great university is fairly simple. It’s like the plan for building a great baseball team: hire great players. In a fundamental sense, the faculty are the university. Students pay to learn what they profess. If the faculty are great scholars and teachers, the university will be great.

The blueprint for building a Catholic university is also simple. It was laid out in 1990 by John Paul II in the apostolic constitution Ex corde ecclesiae. John Paul was himself a university professor, so he knew how universities worked. Ex corde runs almost fifty pages in the English translation; but the kernel of the document is four short lines near the end. In Part II, a section titled “General Norms,” John Paul says that in order for a university to be Catholic, a majority of its faculty must be Catholic.

What I most admire about this prescription is its modesty. John Paul did not say that he and the other bishops should superintend the Catholic character of Catholic universities. On the contrary, he began his observations about the university community by conceding that “the responsibility for maintaining and strengthening the Catholic identity of the University rests primarily with the university itself.” Bishops are not academics. (John Paul and Benedict XVI were exceptions.) Ex corde says to university faculties and administrators, in effect, “We don’t know how to run a Catholic university. That’s your job. The only thing we insist on is that you choose Catholics to do it.” ..


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