Catholic colleges in America are where we want to send our children but do the Catholic colleges in The United States meet the criteria of being a traditional orthodox Roman Catholic college in The US.

 

Does the Catholic college in The US that you are choosing accept the teaching standards of the Roman Catholic Magisterium ?

 

Magdalen College is a Catholic liberal arts college.

 

 

A Correct interpretation of Vatican II  at Magdalen College

Elevating the role of the laity without bringing down the clergy.

 

 

An outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council

Keeping Faith

 

Magdalen College is a Catholic liberal arts college located in Warner, New  Hampshire.  Founded in 1973, the College offers a classical curriculum taught in Socratic seminar classes.  The mission of the College is to teach young men and women to seek intellectual, moral, social, and spiritual excellence.

www.Magdalen.edu

 

At a Catholic college, students reject mainstream America - and the mainstream church

 

By Naomi Schaefer, 5/25/2003

 

WARNER, N.H.- At 7:30 on a cold rainy morning in late April, the chapel at Magdalen College, a conservative Catholic college located in a prototypical New England small town, is more than half full. Most of the school's 85 students and dozen-odd faculty members, wearing coats and ties of muted colors or long skirts and blouses, sit in silence waiting for Mass to begin. As the lights come up, two male students begin to lead the congregation in song.

 

By the time students line up for breakfast, where their seats are assigned (differently each day, so as to avoid the formation of cliques), they've made their beds and tidied their rooms. No desktop clutter or wall decorations are allowed. Personal telephones or electronics of any kind, except for computers, are forbidden. Students carry an extra pair of shoes throughout the day, and change when they walk into a campus building so they don't soil the floors. That rule is easily enforced, since students do most of the campus cleaning.

 

''I thought it was crazy, nuts, and bizarre when I came here,'' says Mark Gillis, who graduated from Magdalen in 1990 and is now a ''tutor,'' as all professors at this Great Books- oriented college are known. Gillis, whose parents told him he could either go to Magdalen or be kicked out of the house, remembers his reaction to the 10:30 lights-out policy: ''I would lie awake for hours. It was like detox.'' But one day during the spring of his first year, Gillis recalls, ''I realized I was happy.''

 

At a time when the Catholic church has been rocked by scandal, Magdalen is part of a small but growing conservative Catholic counterculture that is largely concerned with other issues. Across the country, a dozen or so colleges have sprung up to cater to a population similar to that of Magdalen-kids from families who are looking for a traditional religious and secular education in a strict social environment.

 

Most of these schools, from Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., to Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., have student bodies numbering in the hundreds-for now. In Florida, the Domino's Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, who has founded a Catholic law school and undergraduate program in Michigan, recently broke ground on Ave Maria University, which will eventually accommodate 6,000 students.

 

While these schools aren't organized in any formal network, families see them as an alternative to mainstream Catholic universities, where, according to a recent study by the Cardinal Newman Society, students' attitudes actually become more lax on issues like abortion and premarital sex by the time they graduate. Increasingly, such families are also opting out of Catholic school altogether in favor of homeschooling. Notes Mark Gillis, ''I was one of eight kids. We all went to 12 years of Catholic grammar schools and high schools and none of us had the faith when we graduated.''

 

But while conservative colleges like Magdalen seem worlds away from ''jelly beans and belly dancers in Mass'' (as Gillis describes some of the church's contemporary innovations), in a sense they are just as much an outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council. Unlike most older, established Catholic colleges run by religious orders-like Georgetown and Holy Cross-these schools are generally run by independent lay groups who believe that the holy life is not just for the clergy.

 

Magdalen, for example, was founded in 1974 as a training ground for lay Catholics to learn how to apply religious teachings to their daily lives. (While the school does have some major donors, it's supported mainly by tuition, which runs to just under $14,000 a year with room and board.) Vatican II, Gillis tells me, calls on everyone to ''be a saint,'' whether he is a doctor, a lawyer, or a garbageman, as he himself once was.

 

As a layperson, Gillis says, ''you can't know less than Father So-and-So, because you're just as accountable'' to God. At Magdalen, students and faculty alike say that a correct interpretation of Vatican II would elevate the role of the laity without bringing down the clergy.

 

Tutor Patrick Powers explains that there are three components of a Magdalen education: the tutorials, the catechetics, and residence life-which correspond to the ''life of the mind, the life of the spirit, and the formation of passions. This tripartite structure is ''not unlike the Platonic soul,'' he notes.

 

Gillis sums up the Magdalen experience another way. ''It's good habits. It's character formation. It's Aristotle.''

 

In the classroom, students engage with the great minds of Western civilization, from Plato and Aristotle to Nietzsche, Freud, and John Paul II. According to the student handbook, the goal of the first two years of classes is to ''unmask the opinions of students in order that students may be able to learn and know the truth.'' After their sophomore year, students must reapply, declaring their determination to ''live both the truths learned in tutorials and the virtues fostered in common life.'' For example, in a class called ''The Philosophy of Love,'' students discuss a section from Dante's ''Purgatorio'' that addresses the relationship between rational and natural love; since the former ought to control the latter, in the administration's opinion, students are prohibited from dating.

 

Focusing on the Great Books, say faculty members, is made easier by the school's ban on TV and radio. Reading materials that ''neither reflect nor abide by the Catholic Church's teachings on social communications''-Cosmopolitan, say, or ''Bridget Jones's Diary''-are also forbidden. ''Here, I don't have students walking into class with garbage on their minds,'' says Powers.

 

While newspapers are permitted, few students pay attention to them. As Powers explains, ''The whole education here encourages you to suspend interest in [contemporary] issues for several years.''

 

Most students express only a hazy understanding of the details of the pedophilia scandals that have rocked the church.

 

''We really realized what was going on when we went down to the cathedral in Manchester'' after Bishop John B. McCormack invited them to a town meeting with the press, says junior Kristen Sticha. ''It was the most incredible feeling of solidarity because here's the bishop and he was talking to his people,'' she recalls. ''It was so awesome to be there, supporting him.''

 

Sticha, who first came to Magdalen for a high school summer program, tells me, ''I totally believe in the authority of the Holy Father and that the Catholic Church isn't a democracy. No matter how many people say Bishop McCormack should leave because he has made mistakes, it doesn't matter as long as the Holy Father thinks he should be there. He's our father. It would be like kids saying we don't want him to be our dad.''

 

As Mark Gillis puts it, ''Our faith is not dependent on the vice or virtue of individuals.''

 

Nancy Carlin, a senior at Magdalen, explains, ''People have an infinite capacity for sin, but we have an amazingly merciful God who allows evil in order to bring forth the greater good.''

 

Such attitudes are a far cry from the Catholic mainstream in the Boston area, where, according to a recent Globe poll, clear majorities support allowing priests to marry and the ordination of women, and some 40 percent say they would support an American church independent of the Vatican. But the isolation and conservatism of Magdalen is extreme even by the standards of America's conservative Catholic colleges.

 

About an hour south of Magdalen, at Thomas More College in Merrimack, another Great Books school, students dress casually, are permitted to date, and keep up with current events as much as any other group of undergrads. Although they come from large traditional families similar to those of Magdalen students, students here demonstrate much less subservience to the church hierarchy. The scandals, says Thomas More freshman Theresa Ellis, ''affected my faith. It made me wonder about all the priests I know. It made me skeptical.'' Junior Ben Kniaz, who attends Mass three times a week, says he blames ''some of the bishops in America,'' and thinks more lay participation in selecting priests may be part of the solution.

 

Indeed, Magdalen president Jeffrey Karls expresses some concern over the potential isolation of his students. While he supports the school's restrictive policies on television and radio, he does provide students with a ''leisure guide'' listing movies and books that might be appropriate for them once they graduate. He also invites local political candidates to speak on campus.

 

The school's founding years, Karls says, ''were more focused on making sure students were prevented from being swallowed up by the culture and its immorality.'' But now, he says, ''We have to get beyond being fearful.''

 

Naomi Schaefer, an adjunct fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is writing a book on religious colleges.

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 5/25/2003.

Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

www.Magdalen.edu

 

 

Return to main page