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College Education: Catholic vs. Secular

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 23, 2009

If you thought I’d finished waxing eloquent on the key considerations to keep in mind as you send your kids off to college, you’re doomed to disappointment. There are several further points to address, not the least of which is whether you should prefer a Catholic or a secular school.

I’m a big advocate of having people attend college in exemplary Catholic evironments which, by their nature, are devoted to truth wherever it can be found, resulting in both spiritual and intellectual excellence. Otherwise, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, you’re buying an awful lot of nothing at a fabulously high price. But what if that’s not possible?

I’ve already mentioned Catholic schools which, despite significant institutional problems, have very strong groups of sound faculty and students. I’ve also already indicated that it’s wise to look for schools with at least a small concentration of sound Catholic faculty and a vibrant Catholic ministry, and that these benefits are not limited to Catholic institutions. What I haven’t addressed is the question of whether a thoroughly bad Catholic environment is better than a secular environment. Certainly these things always come down to individual cases, but in general my answer is no.

If a particular college or university claims to be Catholic but in reality holds the Magisterium of the Church in disdain and is populated by academic dissenters with a Modernist agenda, this presents two significant dangers that are not usually found in a frankly secular environment. First, the unwitting student will be led to believe that he is now getting a fuller and more advanced presentation of the Faith, when in fact he is being robbed blind. Second, the student who is prepared to resist this propaganda will generally be targeted far more viciously by the larger number of heterodox or apostate faculty at such schools. It is typically the self-conscious dissenters who squelch dissent in others, just as those who exalt the virtue of tolerance to accommodate falsehood are the least likely to tolerate the expression of truth.

In an unselfconsciously secular school, one will often enough encounter the typical academic sins of pride, intellectual sloth and unexamined prejudices (all of which lead to a characteristic professorial vacuity which only those outside the fraternity are apparently capable of recognizing), but you will not so often find a specific and consuming animus against those who take their Catholic Faith seriously. In fact, you may just as likely meet with some faculty who find such sincere commitment intriguing, because they encounter it so seldom, or perhaps even refreshing. This is exceedingly unlikely in a thoroughly bad Catholic college, where too many professors—having indulged evil through their own largely conscious choice—now necessarily hate the light.

Previously in this series: Starting Life in Debt: The Graduate’s Dilemma

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 29, 2009 3:41 PM ET USA

    I read so little about the insanity of going to any college at a $20K/yr in the first place? How is a Catholic family of 4-10 children supposed to be managing the cost of these places? What about the insanity of a young man and woman who graduate from these schools, marry and have $80-$160K of collective debt? Is a young couple to begin a family under these conditions? Should the young mother/wife get a job? Is that good for a young family? This happens, and it isn't Catholic if you ask me.