Two major tools are the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, a new effort from the Cardinal Newman Society, and the “National Catholic Register Catholic Identity College Guide.”
Joseph Esposito, editor of the Newman Guide and director of research for the Cardinal Newman Society that publishes it, said that these guides “are splendid opportunities for families to look for the key components that comprise or constitute a solid Catholic institution.”
“For many parents and students, a vibrant Catholic identity is a pre-condition for choosing a college,” said Legionary Father Owen Kearns, publisher of the Register. “For many years, that entailed researching each college individually, often relying on hearsay. The Register college guide provides them with a handy instrument for gauging a school’s Catholic identity.”
Seeing their son Stephen in a higher-education environment where that identity is lived was a primary concern and goal for Tom O’Malley and Tori Bloomer-O’Malley of Danville, Calif. They relied on the Register’s “Catholic Identity College Guide” for help.
Tom O’Malley said it was this guide that led his son to make his decision. “We used the guide to identify the mandatum schools and then our son built upon it with information he needed to narrow the search down,” he said. “It became very clear what schools he looked at seriously.”
O’Malley found the essential part of the guide quickly “identified those schools that were the truly faithful Catholic institutions. It was tremendously helpful to us to screen the colleges by the mandatum status.”
Twenty-six colleges and universities, more than one-tenth of Catholic institutions of higher learning in the U.S., currently appear in the guide. Father Kearns outlined the three characteristics that make the guide so useful.
First, it’s simple.
“The 10 questions reflect basic requirements of Catholic identity,” he said. “One college president commented that they go right to the heart of what makes a college Catholic.”
Next, it’s objective.
“The questions can be answered only Yes, No or Not Applicable,” said Father Kearns. “It’s not a survey based on anyone’s analysis or opinion.”
Then, it’s authoritative.
“The guide provides up front the sources of the questions drawn from canon law, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution on the renewal of Catholic higher education), the U.S. bishops’ application of Ex Corde to the United States and relevant documents from the U.S. bishops’ conference,” concluded Father Kearns.
The Newman Guide uses hundreds of interviews as part of its analysis for the 21 schools listed in its guide. The profiles of the college include the school’s mission, governance, spiritual life, curriculum, residential life and extracurricular programs, according to the Newman Society. Esposito said the Newman Guide is the only one providing in-depth profiles on the faithful Catholic colleges.
While these colleges offer a wide range of choices from the Great Books curriculum to a degree in motor sports management, he said “what sets them apart from others is the day-to-day living of their Catholic identity.”
Identifying solidly Catholic colleges is also part of the aim in the guides All-American Colleges and Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth about America’s Top Schools, both edited by John Zmirak, writer in residence at Thomas More College in New Hampshire.
The first guide lists 50 schools divided in three categories: Catholic, Protestant and secular. The standards are also rigorous.
“The only religious colleges we recommend are those who are true to their religious mission,” explained Zmirak. “It’s especially true of Catholic colleges where there are explicit standards by which you can judge their fidelity.”
Turning for example to the second guide, Choosing the Right College, which covers mainstream major schools from strictly secular to religious, both Catholic and Protestant, Zmirak pointed out, “We use as our starting point with Catholic schools those that follow Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”
One reason is to answer parents’ concerns.
“It is their child’s only opportunity to learn the great ideas deep in their souls and widen their intellect,” he said, “and they don’t want to see it wasted or even risk that.”
The guides also help parents and students to save time, narrowing their search for a college easily.
Stephen O’Malley, a freshman at The Catholic University of America, discovered the Register’s guide through his parents. He explained that when he began looking for a college, the first criterion for all of them was “to look for the schools within the parameter of either having the mandatum or having an oath of fidelity.”
Approval of the bishops was of major concern.
With the guide’s help, and hoping to major in musical theater, Stephen was able to quickly narrow his choices to only two possibilities.
“From there the choice was very easy,” he said. “Essentially this helped me find two very solid Catholic schools that had art programs and to decide between them.”
And he hasn’t kept the guide a secret. In his home parish of St. Isidore’s in Danville, Cal., he has recommended to anybody doing college searches and who is definitely interested in a very solid Catholic school to check out the Register’s guide.
There’s even more help on the way.
Father Kearns gave a preview. He said the Register is working with the colleges in its guide to provide further helpful information on financing studies and religious, extra-curricular and on international activities.
“This information will enhance the usefulness of the guide to parents and students seeking to narrow down their choice of a Catholic college,” he said. “Look for that to appear in the coming months.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
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