Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Jerome's - and Other Jokes of a Catholic Kind

What sound does fire make? - kind of a snapping, popping noise, with a sort of subtler wind noise: in other words, the sound of me burning yet another bridge.

Someone mentioned that 'Catholic Education Week' is coming up soon in Ontario, and that schools like St. Jerome's do some targeted advertising at that time. I figured that I could do some targeted blogging to expose just a few of the lies and misperceptions perpetrated by these so-called Catholic schools in Canada.

These are the appearances of the word 'Catholic' on St. Jerome's webpage as of this moment:

St. Jerome's University, situated in the heart of the University of Waterloo campus, is a public Roman Catholic university federated with the University of Waterloo.

St. Jerome's is also the centre for a vibrant Catholic community serving the campus and the region.

It's handbook makes some of the following remarks:

In all of our activities and practices, St. Jerome’s University functions within the context of the Roman Catholic tradition and the principles of academic freedom.

In the hiring section one finds:

With respect to Catholicity, the need for a core of Roman Catholic faculty whose presence will ensure the continuity of the Roman Catholic tradition is essential for the well-being of St. Jerome’s. It is also necessary to develop a strong pool of faculty with a respect for and a familiarity with the Roman Catholic tradition who might assume University leadership positions.

as well as:

A prepared set of questions, to be prepared by the Academic Committee in consultation with the University Community and including the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors and relating to the Catholic identity and scholarly and pedagogical style of St. Jerome's University, will be asked of each candidate.

And a section entitled Student Catholic Community states in part:

The Student Catholic Community is a group of students from St. Jerome’s University and the University of Waterloo who share a common belief in God and in the gospel of Christ. Rooted in the Catholic faith, the community expresses its identity through living out gospel values. The identity of the community manifests itself in three interconnected directions: spiritual growth, community building, and outreach. Activities include social justice awareness activities, scripture study, move (sic) nights and prayer.

In their by-laws it tell us that:

"Roman Catholic" refers to all Catholic Churches in communion with the See of Rome.

Vice-Chancellor (President) and Vice-President (Dean) to be Roman Catholics The Vice-Chancellor (President) of the University and the Vice-President (Dean) of the University shall be Roman Catholics who demonstrate in their public and private lives that they are committed to the objects of the University as set out in section 3 of the Act and in the Mission Statement.

At the Campus Ministry page, we find:

The Campus Ministry provides a spiritual focus for St. Jerome's. It is composed of students, staff, faculty, and neighbours striving to live the gospel through worship and by responding to the call to social justice through community outreach. The chaplaincy team and a volunteer coordinating group (Student Catholic Community) offer an opportunity to explore the spiritual dimension of life and to grow in global awareness. The chaplains strive to provide a supportive presence on campus and to give students a safe place to ask questions and to look for guidance and encouragement. Although Roman Catholic in nature, participation is voluntary and open to students of all religious denominations. Students are invited to take an active role in planning and participating in liturgies.

How to Read All of This

Why didn't I go to their theology course offerings? What's in a name, anyway? Having learned a little bit about the inner-workings of scholastic administration in recent years, I am able to navigate through documents like the ones one would find on a university website and assess something of how Catholic a place actually is. The last place you'd want to look is the course listings, unless they happen to provide an informative description of the material and methodology. You'd have to know the professor who is teaching it to really know what is really taught. Courses vary so much from professor to professor. What are stable are the governing documents of a school - for the most part. If one visits the page of the theological faculty, and examines their areas of interest you would find all the clues to formulate a probable conjecture: you've got interests in feminism, environmentalism, and ecumenism topping the list - all bad signs. These were prominently featured at my Alma Mater, St. Michael's College. Nothing here conclusive, but probable. You know what I am suggesting, don't you?

Anyway, back to the consideration of the governing documents. The two references that are indicative of a weak Catholic profile, include, first, the fact that only two of the higher administrators must be Catholic - the President and the Dean. For the life of me I couldn't find any reference to whether the chancellor had to be Catholic. The second important point is that there should be, "a core of Roman Catholic faculty whose presence will ensure the continuity of the Roman Catholic tradition." A vague and, thus, worthless proviso. As for the other references made above, all that is on paper is that a certain proportion of the faculty should be vaguely aware of Catholicism. You know, I wouldn't hire a mathematician who wasn't vaguely aware of Buddhism.

The problems with St. Jerome afflict most of these so-called schools.

1) It is legally affiliated with a secular school: University of Waterloo.

2) It has no real language, understanding, or vision that can really support Catholicism.

3) Its provisions for a Catholic character - even if actually followed to the letter - are too weak anyway to ensure this Catholic character.

4) The momentum behind sectarian education is against a strong interpretation of these provisions.

These are some of the problems stated very generally.

You must ask yourself on a very practical level, is there anything in the College guaranteeing that your child would actually be exposed to the Catholicism associated with the 'Roman See'?

Do you think that there is anything in their governing documents that would actually work against dominant secularism?

Do you think that these documents entitle St. Jerome's to call itself Catholic, or that in light of them that any formal claim to that character actually constitutes a form of fraud?

If you wrote out a list of the differences between a Catholic college and a secular college, in the case of St. Jerome's which column would be longer? You should consider this question: what are the problems with secular schools that justify the existence of Catholic colleges? From how many of these problems would St. Jerome's be free?

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