EXPLORING THE IDENTITY OF A CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY
By KAREN LAIRD
CATHOLIC STUDIES HOSTS ANNUAL FACULTY SUMMER SEMINAR
In preparation for Catholic Studies’ 30th anniversary next fall, I recently visited the university archives where documents and records from the early years are carefully tucked away for research such as this. A box that contained issues of the Signature, the student-led newsletter of the Catholic Studies program in the 1990s, caught my eye. Several familiar headlines stood out, including “Got Catholic Identity? The Ongoing Struggle of the Catholic University.” (March 1998) I was intrigued. The conversation about the identity of a Catholic university began in the 11th century, was brilliantly articulated by St. John Henry Newman in the 19th century and has been deliberately considered in every era since. Thus, the reason for the Interdisciplinary Faculty Summer Seminar, held in Sitzmann Hall the first week of June. Hosted every year by Catholic Studies and university faculty, the purpose of the five-day seminar is for scholars from all disciplines to engage in and deepen their understanding of the mission of a Catholic university broadly and St. Thomas specifically. Every faculty member is invited to participate.
The first seminar in 1993 began with the guiding principle that all universities need renewal, especially in rapidly changing societies. With the belief that no single academic discipline can provide an account of the entire reality, the interdisciplinary approach provides space for faculty to inform, balance, correct and complement one another. The 2022 seminar, organized by Dr. Phil Rolnick (Theology), Dr. Jeff Jalkio (Physics) and Dr. Michael Naughton, included faculty from engineering, business, mathematics, theology and philosophy, as well as Dougherty Family College. Interim President Rob Vischer, Provost Eddy Rojas and Dr. Bill Tolman, the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, participated as well. Naughton shared that this is the first time in the summer seminar’s nearly 30-year history that university leadership was so well represented. “They came to the seminar not as administrators but as colleagues enhancing the conversation on the complex and important nature of Catholic mission and identity.” This year’s seminar explored three competing claims of what defines the soul of the university: faith and reason; reason alone; and justice and change.
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