I have not been shy about expressing my frustration with universities who claim to be Catholic but do everything they can to obfuscate their Catholic identities. I am sure we will see another round of this as we approach Valentine’s Day with its annual V-Day kerfuffle. Yesterday, however, I had a very different experience at a Catholic university-- specifically at The Catholic University of America.
My daughter is seriously considering attending CUA in the fall of 2008. Yesterday we attended a university open house to get a good look at the school. The day’s activities began with Mass at the adjoining Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. For me, this is a no-mascara church. The sheer beauty and poignancy of the artwork brings me to tears. I get a bit misty-eyed just thinking about the chapel for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mass was celebrated by the CUA president, Fr. David O’Connell.
We then proceeded to the Pryzbyla center at CUA for the opening address. The admissions officer began his presentation with words to the effect of, “Look at our name. We are the CATHOLIC University of America. That is what we are about. We are a pontifical university directly chartered by Rome.” It was refreshing to hear a university talk about being Catholic and connected to Rome in the same sentence. Fr. Bob, the university chaplain, spoke of the great opportunities CUA offered for the growth and development of one’s Catholic faith. As we toured the campus, our student guide pointed out the St. Vincent de Paul Chapel located amidst the cluster of dorms. She spoke of which Mass students choose to attend, not if they choose to attend. Of course we also heard about the wonderful academics and the opportunities for my daughter to play soccer. But there was never any question that Catholicism would be woven into the fiber of her college experience by the design of the university. It would not be an afterthought.
I am sure Notre Dame, Boston College, and maybe even Georgetown have similarly vibrant Catholic student lifestyles. What is different here is the unapologetic manner with which the CUA administration proclaims its Catholic identity. Yesterday was a recruiting event for the university. In an effort to draw in students they put their Catholicism front and center. That is significant. I cannot guarantee that I will agree with every future decision the CUA administration will make. I am confident that the current decision makers respect and honor the authority of Rome. Based on what I’ve seen so far, this university gets the Catholic Mom stamp of approval.