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Monday, September 26, 2005

Is Boston College a "Leading" University?

Apparently, the new President of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. John Jenkins, does not think Boston College is among the leading universities:
"In all of American higher education, Notre Dame has a distinct position. It aspires to be, and is, among the leading universities ... It is at the same time the only one with religious character, with all respects to our friends at Boston College and Georgetown."
(Jenkins quote from The Grand Forks Herald).

UPDATE: My original reading (that Fr. Jenkins claimed that BC was not a "leading" institution) is probably not fair to Fr. Jenkins (see comments); however, this is a clear condemnation of Boston College's "religious character." Irish Elk wonders if a holy war was declared? I am interested in the ensuing debate...
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Comments on "Is Boston College a "Leading" University?"

 

Anonymous Lisa said ... (9/26/2005 01:48:00 PM) : 

Notre Dame gives me a new reason to hate them every single day.

 

Anonymous Tom said ... (9/26/2005 02:54:00 PM) : 

I can't stand Notre Shame. Nick - post that article a few weeks back about how ND has become that guy who acts like he's better than everyone else when it's obvious to everyone that they aren't.

1999 BC 31 ND 29
2001 BC 21 ND 17
2002 BC 14 ND 7
2003 BC 27 ND 25
2004 BC 24 ND 23

Yeah, I wouldn't want to schedule us any more either...

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9/26/2005 08:20:00 PM) : 

I'm no fan on the Fighting Hunchbacks, but in fairness to Fr Jenkins, I think you've misread the quote. What he is saying is that of the leading universities--including BC and Georgedown--ND is the only one with a religious character.

If you define 'religious character' as Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Nipple, crosses in every classroom, single sex dorms, a student body that's almost entirely Catholic, and not trying to do anything about being ranked the most homophobic campus in America, then he is right.

BC just happens to value religious diversity and "faith that does justice" over 24-hour rosaries and "faith-based" neoconservatism. We also have better taste when it comes to religious art on campus.

 

Blogger BC Eagle said ... (9/26/2005 09:06:00 PM) : 

Good point, and great post. After review, you're right; reading the quote as "BC and Georgetown have little/no religious character" is much more accurate than my original interpretation. And, as a link out to the article shows, the author added to the quote "he said, referring to the more liberal Jesuit schools."

 

Blogger Dale said ... (9/28/2005 10:44:00 AM) : 

While I don't have much of a dog in this fight (I didn't attend either school and root for Michigan), ND has it all over BC.

True, in one sense, Fr. Jenkins was wrong.

But if he'd substituted "Catholic" for "religious," he would have nailed it. BC is plenty religious, to be sure.

It's just the kind of religion that takes care never to offend NPR devotees and other secular pharisees who think slapping a "Hate is Not a Family Value" bumper sticker on the back of the Lexus is a brave prophetic statement.

While externals do not define the faith, the determination to deride them is telling.

And anyone who thinks ND has abandoned Catholic social justice principles is ignorant. The three word rebuttal: Fr. Michael Baxter.

 

Blogger Richard said ... (9/28/2005 12:53:00 PM) : 

"If you define 'religious character' as Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Nipple, crosses in every classroom, single sex dorms, a student body that's almost entirely Catholic, and not trying to do anything about being ranked the most homophobic campus in America, then he is right."

I think the difficulty here is that no one seems to be defining 'religious character' in this fashion - least of all Fr. Jenkins. I'm not suggesting you're setting up a straw man necessarily. Just perhaps that you may have misunderstood what he meant.

The larger question remains unaddressed: What is a Catholic university? What is its purpose? The Notre Dame of Fr. Jenkins seems to suggest an answer to these questions, and it may be an answer that not everyone agrees with. Yet the fact remains that at least it is asking that question. Increasingly, it's not clear to many that BC, for all its undoubted virtues, is asking it at all.

In other words it's not clear to me what BC now offers that is not on offer at any number of oldline secularized Protestant schools - or even state schools.

No matter how superior its religious art may be.

 

Blogger BC Eagle said ... (9/28/2005 01:06:00 PM) : 

1. Fr. Jenkins boldy said that BC has NO religious character, so a discussion of how much better ND is in that category does not excuse the attack.

2. BC is committed to both its Catholic AND Jesuit heritage. That is an important distinction from ND in this discussion of character.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9/29/2005 07:43:00 AM) : 

"Increasingly, it's not clear to many that BC, for all its undoubted virtues, is asking it at all."

Oh yeah? Who are these "many?" The 2/3 of the student body who choose to partake in retreats while at BC? The 7,000 people who showed up to Church in the 21st Century opening nights? The nearly 100,000 subscribers who have made BC's progressive Catholic journal, C21 Resources, the second largest Catholic publication in the US? Or the counteless people in Boston or Belize, Guatemala or Apalachia who have worked along side BC students and witnessed firsthand the Jesuit call to justice?

 

Blogger Dale said ... (9/29/2005 12:29:00 PM) : 

"The 2/3 of the student body who choose to partake in retreats while at BC? The 7,000 people who showed up to Church in the 21st Century opening nights? The nearly 100,000 subscribers who have made BC's progressive Catholic journal, C21 Resources, the second largest Catholic publication in the US? Or the counteless people in Boston or Belize, Guatemala or Apalachia who have worked along side BC students and witnessed firsthand the Jesuit call to justice?"

It reminds me of the old Reformation battles over justification. The problem with the above list is that while it is true faith alone does not justify, it is equally true that works alone do not either. The good works in Boston, Central America and Appalachia are also done by Americorps and the Peace Corps. That it may be informed by faith is undeniable. Whether it recognizably proclaims it is open to serious question.

The defense of the C21 Journal is instructive, too. That you have to (accurately) qualify it as a "progressive Catholic" journal demonstrates that BC is not big-tent, diverse, inclusive Catholicism after all. The February 2005 issue was made up of reprints from America, Commonweal and the Reporter.

Yep: The whole range of Catholicism from A to B. If Ave Maria did something like that with articles from the Register, Crisis and Homiletic and Pastoral Review, you'd retort "echo chamber." With some merit. The difference being that AMU is a private project of Tom Monaghan, not part of the Church establishment. Nor is he establishing a project called "The Church in the 21st Century" under the official auspices of a Catholic religious order. Whatever else BC's project is, it is not representative of "the Church" in the 21st Century. It is an ironically-narrow, increasingly-secularized slice of it, set in a hall of mirrors.

Look: The essential argument is that BC, GT and likeminded institutions increasingly prefer to define themselves in secular terms, increasingly worldly and transformed by the world rather than transforming it in turn. The rebuttals thus far are not encouraging.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9/29/2005 12:45:00 PM) : 

I tend to disagree. The impressive response to BC's Church in the 21st Century initiative, the unprecidented growth in readership of the journal it publishes, and the rise of movements like Voice of the Faithful suggest to me that this "big-tent," "progressive" brand of Catholicism resonates with a growing number of faithful American Catholics.

 

Blogger Dale said ... (9/29/2005 01:52:00 PM) : 

It is a continuing delightful irony to hear "progressive" Catholicism described as a "big-tent" when it has such a narrow range of voices. Reminds me of the triumphalism I sometimes hear from fellow conservative/traditional Catholics.

The circulation figures for C21 Journal are equivalent to those of the Reporter. I suspect the subscriber list shows considerable overlap with the NCRep (and America, and Commonweal), so I wouldn't be so sanguine about describing it as any kind of wave yet. Especially since the initiative was born during the absolutely righteous outrage from the abuse scandals. Time will tell.

Speaking of born in 2002:

Far from rising, VOTF is in free-fall. It is strongest in New England, and two of the three "national" conferences have been in Massachusetts (the other in NYC). It is thin on the ground elsewhere--almost invisible in the South and West, where Catholicism is growing the fastest. It is interesting that, for the first time in its history, there is no national conference scheduled. Not a sign of robust health. Don't take my word for it, though:

http://www.votf.org/Parish_Voice/groups.html

It is the Catholic equivalent of Ross Perot's Reform Party: it had something to say, enjoyed a moment, favorable coverage, then went rudderless and now is withering away. It doesn't do anything that SNAP doesn't do better or meet ideological needs that Call to Action doesn't already address.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9/29/2005 02:26:00 PM) : 

Actually the most recent VOTF Convocation was in Indianapolis. And I don't think VOTF can be blamed for not having a chapter in every parish after three years. Considering its youth, I'd say its reach is pretty impressive.

The fact that C21 has amassed greater readership over two years than the more established publications you mention remains impressive. It will be interesting to see if this momentum can be maintained.

You're right though, only time will tell.

 

Blogger Richard said ... (9/29/2005 06:18:00 PM) : 

Hello Annymous,

I am pleased to hear that lots of people show up for conferences. And subcsribe to your journal. And help build homes for the poor.

I can't speak much to the first two, but the latter, as Dale says, is laudatory. Good on 'em, as they say Down Under.

But none of these are distinctively Catholic things per se. Social justice *is* part of Church teaching through the ages. But to listen to many people in Boston - and VOTF - you would think it's ALL of the teaching. Catholicism reduced to social work. No need to bother with any of that sin and salvation stuff.

Let us expand our list of critieria of strength, perhaps. How many vocations does BC produce? How many young men and women in orders? How many missionaries, lay or otherwise (and I *do* mean missionaries, which means preaching the Word of God in Guatemala, not just building homes there)? How many students identify themselves as practicing Catholics on graduation versus matriculation?

Perhaps Fr. Jenkins was sloppy in suggesting BC has "no religious character." But if he had said it has "little distinctive Catholic character," one would be hard pressed to deny it. Unless "Catholic character" is watered down to mean social work, avant garde theology and affirmation of secular sexual lifestyles and practices.

But perhaps I tar with too broad a brush. There are devout, orthodox Catholics at BC. They're just very much the exception to the rule.

It's a shame. It's a school with along and noble history in the very best of the Jesuit tradition. Unfortunately, too often in recent years the "Jesuit tradition" has come to mean something quite different.

 

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