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The Catholic University as Promise and Project: Reflections in a Jesuit Idiom.

The Catholic University as Promise and Project. Reflections in a Jesuit Idiom. By Michael J. Burkley, S.J. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998. 224 pages, np.

Rather than a systematic and comprehensive treatment of Catholic higher education, this book is a collection of essays offered as reflections on a set of questions, challenges, or problems arising from a central topic--the nature of, and prospects for, a Catholic, Jesuit University.

Part I of the book discusses the challenges and opportunities facing the Catholic university in general. The fundamental challenge is whether Catholic universities can avoid the pattern that their Protestant counterparts have exhibited in the twentieth century--becoming less religious in their commitments and practices while becoming more competent in teaching, research, and publication, more diverse in faculty and student body, and aspiring for more cultural prestige. His analysis of portions of several mission statements from unidentified Catholic colleges or universities is insightful and trenchant. Father Buckley censures as unsatisfactory the tendency to identify the Catholic character of the institution with practices that are typically extrinsically related to the heart of the university--its academic practices. Father Buckley insists that Ex Corde Ecclesiae "preforms a valuable, needed service" by raising the issue of the nature of a Catholic university, yet expresses deep reservations about the ordinances associated with it.

Parts II and III address concerns more specific to the Jesuit university. Father Buckley discusses in Part II Ignatius's understanding of the Jesuit University and compares it helpfully to John Henry Newman's conception of the university, a conception he also discussed in Part I. Later, in Part III, Father Buckley discusses "signs of contradiction." How can a university be Catholic if it is to be committed to open, free discussion of every topic and to academic pluralism with respect to every possible topic or if it displaces Catholic social teaching in the name of the modern university's commitment to liberal procedural justice or if its students leave the institution with no more commitment to the poor, the mistreated, and exploited, and the imprisoned than their secular counterparts?

In Part IV, Father Buckley reflects on two of his deepest commitments as a Jesuit educator--the proper role of philosophy and theology in a university education. His suggestions for the advancement of these two disciplines and of liberal, humanist education in the face of the persistent impoverishment of a university education in the name of relevance, political correctness, professional and technical education, or the consumer interests of parents and students are clear, provocative, and useful. Of special interest to me was his treatment of the integrating and unifying functions of philosophy and theology in Catholic colleges and universities when they were still informed by the Thomistic tradition. Sadly, he acknowledges that the contemporary pluralism in the American colleges and universities has undermined Catholic confidence in the centrality of philosophy and theology in a well-developed educational curriculum. Many Catholic universities, like their Protestant and secular counterparts, no longer offer a unified, integrated, and intelligible core education. Instead, students are presented a smorgasbord of courses from which they choose on the basis of whim, ease of getting a grade, the sales pitch of departments with respect to their usefulness in getting a job, or the charisma and salesmanship of individual faculty. Father Buckler is convinced, as am I, that no university or college can deliver a genuinely Christian liberal arts education without having a significant commitment to both philosophy and theology.

It is Father Buckley's hope that engagement with the essays which make up the book will evoke from others involved in Catholic, Christian, or even, more widely yet, American higher education, commensurate reflections. They did for me and I highly recommend this book, especially to those who are concerned about the future of religiously-identified colleges and universities.

MICHAEL BEATY Baylor University Waco, Texas
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Beaty, Michael
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:0JINT
Date:Mar 22, 2000
Words:637
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