Learning and Faith Print
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 19 August 2013

All over the country, students and parents are already on the way to campuses this week. In a long-ago age that some of us still breathing are old enough to remember, Fall terms began in September and didn’t finish until after Christmas – the long vacation was time for writing papers and preparing for exams (at least in theory). But in the newer dispensation, we start before Labor Day so that everyone can be idle in December.

People often ask these days where to send their children so that they can get a really Catholic college-level education or at least one that won’t harm their faith. Not long ago, that was a hard question to answer. But now there is no shortage of good places, and all you need to do is look at the Cardinal Newman Society’s Guide to Choosing a Catholic College for a solid and varied list.

Even at many mainstream Catholic institutions, there’s been push back against the wild swing in the 1960s towards secular models. Today, you can find in such colleges and universities good professors, departments, and Catholic Studies Programs (yes, it’s absurd that these are needed on “Catholic” campuses, but they are usually a way to deal with situations that could not otherwise be remedied). You just need to ask around.

And no small number of secular colleges and universities – 90 percent of Catholics who go college go to secular schools – have good Newman Centers and in a growing number of places strong campus ministries. Trust me on this; I’ve been to many of them. If you saw them, you might be surprised how remarkably good they can be with the right kind of priest in charge.

It’s a minor miracle that they even do a good job fencing off Catholics active in the programs from the toxic dorm “hookup” culture. You have to look early, however, for this sort of refuge before you start considering where to send your kids, if they’re headed to a secular campus.

But that’s not where adult duties towards Catholic higher education end.  And I’d like to put a question to you: what about your own formation in the Faith? Everyone’s talking these days – partly as a result of Pope Francis’s urging – about the need to take the Faith into the streets, to reach out in your own immediate neighborhood, not to think of being a Catholic as something that goes on solely within your local parish church.

So what kind of study have you done lately to prepare yourself for these and other challenges in our post-Christian age? If you read The Catholic Thing, you can probably gear yourself up to a certain extent with private reading. But that’s not all you may need, and there are many tools available to you now that make it easy to get a much better grasp of what the faith is and what it demands in our time, without your needing to enroll yourself in some local institution.

Let me mention just one alternative: The Catholic Distance University, where I am the Graduate Dean. I tout CDU not because I work there. I work there part of every week because I think CDU is a great vehicle for creating an educated and confident laity, not only in America (where we have students in every state), but in the many other countries (nearly two dozen of them) that we reach via the Internet, from Australia to Hungary.

CDU has been in business for thirty years this month, the last ten online. So the university has unmatched experience in teaching about Catholicism in distance formats.

If you want a serious full-blown program, you can do an M.A. in Theology, with concentrations in Sacred Scripture, Theology/Philosophy, Catholic Culture, or Ecclesial Service. There are also B.A. and A.A. degrees offered, and all the degree programs attract talented and accomplished people of all ages and backgrounds.

The degree programs generally proceed via the usual twelve-week courses by semester, exactly the way you would study at a bricks-and-mortar university – and you get close interaction in the online course room with a distinguished faculty, which includes TCT regulars such as Fr. Bevil Bramwell, David Bonagura, Randall Smith, and several others. Classes start Monday August 26 for the 2013 Fall term. You can register online or call and talk to the admissions counselor (mention that you saw this column and they’ll give you special attention).

For people who aren’t interested in or ready for a degree program, there are some terrific three-week online seminars on a series of great topics. Professor Smith is doing one right now on the Greek Fathers of the Church. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be pointing out how pathetic Dan Brown’s Inferno, his latest anti-Catholic novel, is in comparison with the great Dante Alighieri’s poem. Don Prudlo, a gifted young scholar of Church history, will offer a seminar on the History of the Papacy towards the end of September. And the list goes on throughout the year.

If you are a regular reader of this site, I probably don’t have to assure you of this, but all these seminars and courses are 100 percent orthodox. Different Catholic opinions and approaches emerge in the course of study. But at CDU, when you read an encyclical or one of the Vatican II documents or an author like Joseph Ratzinger or Karol Wojtla, you’ll be getting real Catholicism, a modern Catholicism faithful to the tradition and also more than capable of handling current challenges.

So if you’ve been saying for a long time that we need to do something to make Catholicism a more substantial presence in America society and the world, here’s a concrete way to proceed. What are you waiting for? You might actually find that it’s a good and rewarding thing to follow your own advice.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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