56 years after the disastrous Land O’ Lakes Declaration, faithful Catholic colleges and universities are thriving

By ITV staff

In 2009, Cardinal Newman Society founder and president Patrick Reilly presented Pope Benedict XVI with a copy of The Newman Guide and asked for his blessing on the work

Regularly featured in Inside the Vatican for years now has been our “Education” section, in which we have profiled colleges and universities appearing in the Newman Guide —a yearly publication of the Cardinal Newman Society, founded 30 years ago this year, to help parents and prospective students choose authentically Catholic educational institutions that are faithful to their Catholic identity.

When Patrick Reilly, founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, decided to first compile a list of faithful Catholic colleges in 1993, there were only a handful on it.

Catholic colleges and universities — including the flagship Catholic institutions like Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., had long since reaped the bitter fruits of the 1967 Land-O-Lakes Statement, signed by the presidents of six leading Catholic universities: Boston College, Catholic University of America, Fordham, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Saint Louis — a declaration of independence from “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

Says Reilly, “Over the course of just a few years following the statement, most Catholic colleges and universities in America shed their legal ties to the Church and handed their institutions over to independent boards of trustees. In the quest for secular prestige and government funding, many went so far as to remove the crucifixes from their classroom walls and to represent their Catholic identity in historical terms (such as, ‘in the Jesuit tradition’).

“The wound of secularization deepened over the next few decades: many Catholic colleges and universities weakened their core curricula in favor of the Harvard model of electives and specialization, adopted a radical notion of academic freedom, embraced relativism and political correctness, and largely abandoned the project of forming young people for Christ outside the classroom.

Embracing the idea of “freedom” as merely “choice,” Catholic schools rapidly adopted the attitude that teachings of the Church were no longer the pre-eminent guarantor of truth, but rather just one selection from the cafeteria of ideas.

“It wasn’t until 1990,” explains Reilly, “that the ‘Land O’ Lakes Statement’ was soundly repudiated by Saint Pope John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution for Catholic universities.”

Since then, a whole new crop of faithful Catholic colleges and universities has sprung up to fill the desperate need for authentically Catholic education. Parents no longer need despair of finding a school where their children’s faith is nurtured along with their intellectual development.


An excerpt from Ex Corde Ecclesiae
Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities (August 15, 1990)

April 17, 2008 Washington, USA. Pope Benedict XVI meets the communities of Catholic universities at the Conference Hall of the Catholic University of America. Greeting of the Rector Mons. David M. O’Connell, C.M. (Photo Grzegorz Galazka)

4. It is the honor and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church, which has “an intimate conviction that truth is (its) real ally … and that knowledge and reason are sure ministers to faith.” Without in any way neglecting the acquisition of useful knowledge, a Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God. The present age is in urgent need of this kind of disinterested service, namely of proclaiming the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished. By means of a kind of universal humanism a Catholic University is completely dedicated to the research of all aspects of truth in their essential connection with the supreme Truth, who is God. It does this without fear but rather with enthusiasm, dedicating itself to every path of knowledge, aware of being preceded by him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” the Logos, whose Spirit of intelligence and love enables the human person with his or her own intelligence to find the ultimate reality of which he is the source and end and who alone is capable of giving fully that Wisdom without which the future of the world would be in danger.


Newman tells us clearly: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity.

By Fr. Peter M. J. Stravinskas (The Catholic Thing)

How is one to get this “well-instructed laity” to bring about “the new evangelization” –  that living and preaching of the Gospel in formerly Christian lands?  We have the answer in Newman’s establishment of the Catholic University of Ireland, to be sure, but likewise (and even especially) in his founding of the Oratory School in Birmingham, often called “the apple of his eye.”

Current assaults against the Church and her teachings are even more pernicious than those of the nineteenth century, spreading through thoroughly hostile and godless, so-called “public,” schools as children are exposed to every kind of perversion and lunacy imaginable.  Indeed, a recent study revealed that the average Catholic child in a government school loses his or her faith by the fourth grade!

Therefore, every priest and bishop should warn parents that subjecting their children to government schools endangers their souls.  Of course, that will mean ensuring that authentic Catholic schools are available and affordable, and likewise challenging the priorities of all too many parents who prefer a winter vacation to the Catholic education of their sons and daughters.

And further, our situation demands we be proactive in protecting the Catholic identity of our schools from any incursions. Historically, totalitarian forces always go after our schools first.

Yes, Catholic schools are more necessary today than ever before in our history, but schools determined to form intentional Catholics, comfortable with being different. The aggressive secularization of the moment can only be held off and even reversed if the Church is able to offer her members an alternative vision of life and what sociologists call a viable “sub-culture” (actually, the Catholic “sub-culture” is the real culture, while what society is offering is no culture at all).



Pope Benedict XVI devoted an entire address to Catholic education during his 2008 pastoral visit to the United States.  One paragraph stands out in particular:

[Catholic education] is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.

Facebook Comments