Advancing Marianist and Catholic values in higher education
In his seminal book, “A New Fulcrum: Marianist Horizons Today,” the late Fr. David Fleming posed: “What Makes University Education ‘Marianist’?” One of the potential answers perhaps lies in the synthesis of faith and reason, a hallmark of Catholic and Marianist education. It’s about fostering a community of learners who not only excel academically, but who also grow spiritually, morally and ethically. It’s about instilling in students a deep sense of social responsibility and a commitment to making the world a better place.
“In terms of the relationship between faith and reason, I adhere to Pope John Paul II’s 1998 Encyclical Letter ‘Fides Et Ratio,'” in which he describes Faith and Reason as two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth,” answered Chaminade President Dr. Lynn Babington, when asked about her understanding of the relationship between faith and reason in an interview with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. “In other words, the Catholic intellectual tradition at the heart of a Catholic university presupposes the harmonious existence between faith and reason. It’s a relationship that is not static because both faith and reason are involved in a mutual search for and reception of meaning and truth.”
For Association of Marianist Universities (AMU) Executive Director Bro. Thomas Giardino, Fleming’s question could serve as a catalyst for conversations that are needed today in order to develop and advance the mission and identity of Marianist and Catholic higher education.
“Since the Marianist educational tradition is a person-centered charism [gift] with a mission strategy, when this reality is felt by students, staff and faculty then that university education is alive with the Marianist sensibilities,” said Giardino in an email response. “This means that the university community experiences that they individually matter, that relationships matter, that the world matters, and that there is a relationship between their education and their encounter with our world. For this to happen, there needs to be a critical mass of persons who are in the community, not simply for transactional relationships, but for transformational relationships; that is, it touches the meaning and purpose of their identity, what they live for.”
In today’s society, where knowledge is abundant but wisdom is scarce, Catholic and Marianist universities face pressing issues. One such issue is the challenge of maintaining their distinct identity and values in a rapidly changing world. The secularization of higher education and the prevailing culture of individualism pose threats to the unique mission of these universities.
Another pressing issue is the need for inclusivity and diversity. As society becomes more pluralistic, Catholic and Marianist universities must ensure that their campuses are welcoming to people of all backgrounds and faiths. They should strive to create an environment where open dialogue and respectful exchange of ideas can flourish.
AMU plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges. It serves as a platform for collaboration and shared learning among Catholic and Marianist universities. It fosters a sense of solidarity and unity among these institutions, helping them preserve their core values while adapting to the demands of the modern world.
“The Association of Marianist Universities provides a structure for the three Marianist Universities to share ideas and programming to strengthen the Marianist identity of each of the universities,” said Bro. Ed Brink, Chaminade’s Vice President of Mission and Rector. “Through the work of AMU, there are regular meetings (usually via Zoom) of people from each of the universities that have similar jobs.”
In 2005, members from Chaminade University, University of Dayton and St. Mary’s University of San Antonio responded to the call from AMU Board to build a partnership among members of the Society of Mary, the sponsoring religious body. It would invite a cadre of lay collaborators, who would together sustain and renew the mission and identity that was Catholic, and that embodied the Marianist educational tradition.
Since then, faculty, staff and administrators have been invited each year to deepen their understanding of and their commitment to the traditions and beliefs that make each respective university a Catholic and Marianist community.
“In the summer of 2022, AMU held a symposium during which more than 100 people from the three universities gathered to reflect on the unique contributions that Marianist Universities make within American higher education, and to envision possibilities for the future,” Brink said. “Whenever AMU gathers people from the three universities together, we are reminded that we are part of a bigger mission. While we all take pride in our own work, we are able to see that we are working on a project that goes well beyond our own institution and campus walls.”
In a world marked by division and polarization, the three Marianist/Catholic universities promote a message of unity and common purpose. They produce graduates who are not only academically competent but also compassionate, ethical and dedicated to making a positive impact on society.
In a world hungry for meaning and purpose, the Association of Marianist Universities serves as a guiding light. It reminds us that education is not just about acquiring knowledge; it’s about becoming better human beings. It underscores the enduring relevance of Catholic and Marianist principles in today’s society, where the search for truth, goodness and justice remains as vital as ever.
“Our faculty and staff already embrace and appreciate the values of providing a quality education, and an education for service, justice, peace, adaptation and change,” Babington said. “They may not necessarily have a religious affiliation, but they do believe in an equal and just society, which is what we impart to our students.”