By Kate Barrett
In the beginning of February, I attended the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) Annual Meeting in Washington DC. The theme for this year was “Rethinking Catholic Higher Education in a Transformed Landscape.” I thought to myself, what do they mean by ‘transformed landscape’? I spent the weekend listening for the ways in which people think our landscape has been transformed. Themes emerged such as undocumented students, adult learners, leveraging technology, global learning, enrollment, affordability and student debt, collaborative partnerships, and creating an interfaith culture. As I listened, I reflected on how St. Kate’s has been living in this ‘transformed landscape’ for years, and in some cases, decades. Certainly we are ahead of the curve in some of these areas. At the same time, however, I recognize that we have a long journey ahead of us to get to where we want to be.
I made time at the conference to reflect on the following questions:
- What does it mean for St. Kate’s to be a Catholic university?
- What role does the Catholic plait of our tripartite mission play in our university?
- How can and does our Catholic identity inform our intellectual climate of Inclusive Excellence and Academic Excellence?
- How can and does our Catholic identity help us to value integration — integration of heart and mind; classroom and community; faith and reason; liberal arts and professional studies; humility and leadership?
- In what ways does our ethnic and religious diversity enrich our Catholicity at St. Kate’s, and how can we do better?
The word “Catholic” — big C or little c — can have a lot of meaning for people. For many, it has more than one meaning. It may be shaped by how we grew up, how the religion was taught or not taught, how it was practiced or not practiced, and how it was portrayed in the news; all contribute to the meanings we hold. There are many truths. Fr. Bryan Massingale reminds us of how the Catholic religion has been deeply entangled with colonialism, imperialism, and racism. And at the same time, we know that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have always been and continue to be grounded in justice — vigilant to meeting the needs of the time and loving the dear neighbor without distinction. We live in a complex world.
Recently, the Myser Initiative Steering Committee revised our website language related to our Catholic Identity. Thank you to Bill McDonough, Professor of Theology, for taking the lead on this project. The following are excerpts from the website that urged me to reflect more deeply:
Walter Ong, SJ’s essay on Catholic higher education gives us an image for our identity at St. Catherine University. Pointing out that the Greek word katholikos means “throughout the whole,” Ong says Catholic universities are to be like yeast, affecting all with whom we come into contact by our search for the common good… Ong writes: “We need the collaboration of all the knowledgeable people we can relate to….” See Ong—Yeast, 1990
Sister of St. Joseph Helen Prejean (CSJ, Province of Medaille) has her own way of speaking about katholikos, saying that our task is to open up to a “power and life that brings [us] into the big waters, then dissolves boundaries quietly, gently, like the unfolding of the petals of a rose.” (p. 253, Flinders, 2006)
At St. Catherine University, we live our Catholic identity by committing to engage with and learn from each other in ever-larger wholes. We expect to learn from every member of this community—inclusive of gender, ethnicity, identity, ability and faith tradition. We begin by respecting each other, both seeking to refrain from harming one another and committing to make amends when we do cause harm. We, all of us together, want to grow into a deeper understanding of who we are and what our human lives are for.
To learn more about how we talk about our Catholic identity, visit our website here.
Returning to the reflections inspired by my ACCU conference attendance, I ask again: how are we living out our Catholic identity at St. Kate’s? I came away from the conference grateful for our St. Kate’s community, a community that has been shaped by a landscape that is transformed and constantly evolving. Our community not only welcomes all, but also aspires to invite everyone into the dialogue, with a commitment to learn from each other. Deep down, we understand that it is only together that we can understand who we are and what it is we are called to. We are a community that strives to “dissolve boundaries.”
On our website we list some of the ways in which we are living out our Catholicity at St. Kate’s. There are days when we do these well and there are days when these feel ambitious…that is our journey.
- Welcoming all as our dear neighbor without distinction in the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
- Educating the whole student; mind, body, and spirit.
- Committing to spiritual practice that feeds our call to justice.
- Fostering an ability to critically reflect on one’s self and one’s role in the world.
- Offering prayer and liturgy that honors the universal church.
- Integrating spirituality and ethical decision making into our lives.
- Engaging in mutually beneficial relationships within the community.
- Breaking down false barriers that separate us from one another.
- Practicing social and ecological justice in our daily lives.
Kate Barrett, OTD, is the Archbishop Harry Flynn Endowed Chair in Catholic Identity and Director of the Myser Initiative at St. Catherine University. She is an associate professor of occupational therapy.