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Twenty-One Faithful Catholic Colleges

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 21, 2009

The Cardinal Newman Society now includes twenty-one colleges and universities on its list of “faithful Catholic colleges”. This list may not be utterly exhaustive, but the Cardinal Newman Society is in a good position to know what’s what, and their rankings are trustworthy. The number “faithful” schools is slowly growing as new ones are founded and older ones reform. Eighteen out of fifty U.S. states plus the District of Columbia now boast a solidly Catholic college within their borders. For some reason (probably known only to God), three of them are in Texas.

It reveals a good deal that ten of the twenty-one were founded between 1971 and 2007 at least partly in response to the general collapse of Catholic higher education that began in the 1960’s. For example, I had this very much in mind when joining forces with Dr. Warren Carroll to found Christendom College in 1977. Many of the older schools underwent significant reform during this same period, though a few of them never succumbed to the pressure of secularism that swept through the Church a generation ago. The leaders of reform at some of the older schools have stated that they were influenced by the fidelity and commitment of the newer institutions.

Some of the older schools are still battling internally to bring all departments fully in line with the Church’s understanding of the Catholic University as expressed in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990), but overall they are doing well. It is worth noting that a number of other schools have a very significant faithful Catholic presence on campus, enabling students to flourish both spiritually and intellectually if they make a point of getting in touch from the outset with the right faculty and priests. For example, Notre Dame, with all its grave need for renewal, falls within this category.

It is interesting to note that while the new foundations are completely lay run, most of the older schools remain associated with religious orders or under the direction of bishops. Male Benedictines have done particularly well in this regard, but the Society of Jesus, which gave life to the largest number of Catholic colleges and universities of significant size in the United States, is now conspicuously absent from any contemporary “faithful” list. In fact, it is not too much to say that the Jesuits are presently the single largest obstacle to the effective renewal of mainstream Catholic higher education.

As things stand, the largest of the schools on the list is the Catholic University of America, with a total of about 6,500 students enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate programs. This is the official Catholic university of the United States bishops, and it has very definitely been reformed significantly in recent years. The University of Dallas is the second largest on the list, with about 3,000 students. Several other older schools range between 2,000 and 2,500 students, but among the newer colleges and universities, the largest is Ave Maria University at about 600.

The good news is that there are now twenty-one schools on the list, and they are a very diverse group. The bad news is that this number represents just under 10% of all the colleges and universities in the United States that claim to be Catholic. The other bit of bad news is that the vast majority of nominally Catholic parents and students do not take Catholic fidelity into account when choosing to enroll in a college or university. Clearly, we still have a long way to go.

The following two lists show the names, locations and founding years of the Cardinal Newman Society’s twenty-one “faithful Catholic colleges”:

Founded in Response to Loss of Catholic Identity Elsewhere:

  • Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA (1971)
  • Holy Apostles College & Seminary, Cromwell, CT (1972)
  • Magdalen College, Warner, NH (1974)
  • Christendom College, Front Royal, VA (1977)
  • The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Merrimack, NH (1978)
  • The College of Saint Thomas More, Fort Worth, TX (1985)
  • Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, FL (2003)
  • John Paul the Great Catholic University, San Diego, CA (2003)
  • Southern Catholic College, Dawsonville, GA (2005)
  • Wyoming Catholic College, Lander, WY (2007)

Founded Earlier and Remained Faithful or Were Reformed:

  • Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, MD (1808)
  • Benedictine College, Atchison, KS (1858)
  • Belmont Abbey College, Belmont, NC (1876)
  • St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, OK (1877)
  • Aquinas College, Nashville, TN (1886)
  • The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC (1887)
  • Providence College, Providence, RI (1917)
  • Franciscan University of Steubenville, Steubenville, OH (1946)
  • University of St. Thomas, Houston, TX (1947)
  • University of Dallas, Irving, TX (1956)
  • DeSales University, Center Valley, PA (1965)

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