The Integration of Catholic Social Thought Into Higher Education

by Ernest S. Pierucci, Esq.
John F. Henning Institute, Saint Mary's College of California
Michael Naughton, Director
John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought
of the Center for Catholic Studies
University of St. Thomas

WORKING DRAFT: Do not cite without authors' permission.

Abstract: University education provides an ideal forum to explore the rich intellectual tradition of Catholic social thought and its relationship to economics, business, politics, law and other areas of thought and practice. Catholic social thought provides an important opportunity for a Catholic university to deepen its identity across the curriculum. Unfortunately, Catholic social thought too often escapes the education of most students at Catholic universities. A USCC task force on Catholic social teaching and Catholic education noted that within Catholic higher education "There appears to be little consistent attention given to incorporating gospel values and Catholic social teaching into general education courses or into departmental majors." In light of this current situation, the presenters examine the fundamental importance of Catholic social thought to Catholic education and explore the obstacles as well as practical models of integrating Catholic social thought in university education. They will focus on three areas, which organically strengthen each other: curriculum, faculty development, and administrative responsibilities.

This paper will propose a theoretical basis and practical suggestions for the integration of Catholic social thought into Catholic higher education. Since Catholic social thought is an interdisciplinary exercise with moral theology and philosophy as key integrating disciplines, Catholic social thought is based on an understanding of the person and society that is distinctively spiritual and moral. Thus any attempt to discuss its integration into higher education will implicate the most enduring issues of the Catholic identity of our colleges and universities.

Our topic will by no means exhaust the Catholic identity question. However, we submit that any serious attempt to address how our colleges and universities can authentically be Catholic will necessary lead to an in depth consideration of the integration of Catholic social teaching into every aspect of our educational institutions. Certainly some of the most pressing current issues in Catholic higher education are directly related to Catholic social teaching: the relationship between the Catholic character of our institutions and their schools and programs of professional studies, service learning, justice education, how we communicate the Catholic tradition to the increasing number of students and faculty from different faiths. The principles of Catholic social thought provide the basic grammar and vocabulary to address these questions.

We recognize the extensive, delicate and multi-layered enterprise of integrating Catholic social thought (scripture, tradition, papal and conciliar teachings, the reflections of theologians, the lived experience of good and holy people) within Catholic higher education. There is no cook book recipe to follow. However, we will offer some practical proposals. The first is that in order to understand the "how," one should understand the "why." Therefore, the paper outlines a theoretical basis for the integration of Catholic social thought into Catholic higher education. We then focus on three practical areas, which should organically strengthen each other: curriculum, faculty development, and administrative responsibilities.

We have chosen to adopt a student-centered approach for this paper returning always to the question "What does this mean for the student?" In particular, we will attempt principally to look at this question in terms of the Christian vocation of our students. We believe that this student-centered approach is important in light of a university context where faculty can readily tend to identify more with their particular discipline than the institutional mission of the university.

I. The Nature and Purpose of Catholic Social Thought

Dennis McCann's concise description of Catholic social teaching is helpful to begin to appreciate the significance of Catholic social thought for Catholic higher education.(1) He proposes that Catholic social thought is a social vision that is

  • Theologically Grounded
  • Morally Based
  • Institutionally Embodied
  • Publicly Argued

These four characteristics have profound implications for the student for faculty and administration in Catholic higher education. They articulate four basic considerations for our students' full development. Taking some license with McCann's categories, we examine the importance of these four categories of Catholic social thought as it relates to Catholic higher education.

Theologically Grounded: Faith and Reason Foundation of Catholic Social Thought. While education addressed to the natural reason of the student can articulate a vision of the person and society that can be considered complementary to the principles of Catholic social thought, absent an anthropology, specifically an understanding of who the student is, informed by the Incarnation and redemption, the fullness of the Catholic social thought cannot be proposed to the student. The dialogue between faith and reason is essential to Catholic social thought. It is precisely this theological grounding that prevents it from collapsing into a political program or an economic model.

Morally Based: Organic Vision of Catholic Social Thought. Catholic social thought proposes to the student that God calls them through the being of things to lead a unified life where every aspect of their earthly existence is aimed at the "Christian animation of the temporal order." No matter what major students find themselves in, their education should be an intellectual and moral response to the world, a world in which people both suffer and have the Incarnation as a source of bounteous potential for good. An education in Catholic social thought must itself be comprehensive and integrated by engaging the fundamental moral concerns of each particular discipline. (Something about competing moral visions (MacIntyre???).

Institutionally Embodied: Integrated Curriculum of Catholic Social Thought. Seeing the ethical and spiritual dimensions of institutional actions is one of the more difficult bridges to build for students who tend overly to privatize and compartmentalize faith and morality. Catholic social teachings organic vision of the student's life is lost - indeed borders on hypocrisy - if the institutional embodiment of Catholic social thought is ignored when students take courses in their majors. Catholic social thought is at best marginalized when faculty, particularly in the professional schools, simply overlook the institutional implications of its content, especially when what John Paul II calls "structures of sin" are ignored.(2)

Publicly Argued: Interdisciplinary Culture. Accordingly, it is critical to create within Catholic colleges and universities an interdisciplinary culture which is centered on the full development of the student. Catholic social thought can be very attractive in the context of higher education, because it examines human and social issues as an interdisciplinary task that is student oriented. As John Paul II explains,

In order better to incarnate the one truth about man in different and constantly changing social, economic and political contexts, [Catholic social thought] . . . enters into dialogue with the various disciplines concerned with man. It assimilates what these disciplines have to contribute, and helps them to open themselves to a broader horizon, aimed at serving the individual person who is acknowledged and loved in the fullness of his or her vocation.

This interdisciplinary context reflects the characteristic of Catholic social thought as a publicly argued social vision. Catholic social thought can not be a conversation limited to a particular faith community. Our students are called to apply the principles of Catholic social teaching in the public square. Accordingly, they must be practiced in making its principles intelligible and accessible to all our fellow citizens. This means that the curriculum must give our students an opportunity for sustained reflection on the implications of Catholic social thought for all of the institution's majors and areas of study. In addition it implies an important role for persons of other faith traditions. If, within the context of a robust interdisciplinary conversation, Catholic social teaching is not intelligible and at least intriguing to the highly educated people of good will one hopes to find as students, faculty and administrators at Catholic colleges and universities, there is not much prospect for a concrete application of Catholic social thought in the wider community.

Although the goal to which the integration of Catholic social teaching into Catholic higher should be ordered can be stated in numerous ways, based on the foregoing considerations, we offer the following formulation:

That students in community through the dialogue of faith and reason come to know the truth expressed in the principles of Catholic social teaching and, in a response rooted in love and ordered to their salvation, commit their whole lives, in the Gospel sense, to building up a common good worthy of persons created for eternal participation in the life of the Trinity.

This goal calls on all participants in Catholic education to respond to this project with the deepest sense of vocation and commitment. We realize, however, that the degree of participation in this end by administration, faculty, staff and students will vary widely at Catholic colleges and universities. Some will not assent to the full theological vision noted above, but will be committed to the moral vision of the common good and human dignity. Some will even see such a goal as an expression of proselytizing that is at odds with academic freedom. Such degrees of commitment to the institutional mission of Catholic higher education constitute the pluralistic background that we navigate every day at most Catholic institutions. Many of us have experienced first hand how this rich pluralistic community fosters the four characteristics mentioned above.

However, if the formation of the student in accordance with the principles of Catholic social thought is the end to which we are committed, then, as a practical matter, faculty and administrators who are committed to the truth expressed by those principles and who live their lives in a loving response to that truth, must provide the substance of the student's education in every program where the integration of Catholic social teaching is sought. The words addressed to elementary (people will take issue here that a university is not a elementary school-I think we should take this out of the paper) school teachers of the poor over two hundred and fifty years ago by the patron saint of teachers, St. John Baptist de La Salle, express the essence of the matter:

This must be your goal when your teach your students, that they live a Christian life and that your words become spirit and life for them. Your words will accomplish this first, because they will be produced by the Spirit of God living in you, and second, because they will procure for your students the Christian spirit. In possessing this spirit, which is the very Spirit of Jesus Christ, they will live that true life which is so valuable because it leads surely to eternal life.

II. Integrating Catholic Social Thought into the University

Mindful of the end we have proposed and the principles and conditions we have set out, we now suggest practical ways in which Catholic social thought is and can be practically integrated in the Catholic university. We will focus on three areas: an overview of the principles for a curriculum that integrates Catholic social teaching, faculty development programs that engage faculty in the Catholic intellectual tradition and in particular the social dimension of that tradition, and finally a strategic direction for administrators in focusing on Catholic social thought within the university.

1) A Curricular Approach:

An institution's curriculum is based on many factors, including its particular mission, its traditions and pure historical accidents. This is not a "one size fits all" realm. Recognizing that the curriculum can and will be structured in various ways, we find that Ernest Boyer's categorization for research provides a helpful categorization to understand the curriculum of a Catholic university. Courses at a college or university can fit within three broad categories: discovery, applied, and integration. While all courses at a university should have all three characteristics, each course will have its own particular focus. These three categories can serve to support organically each other and thus strengthen the integration of Catholic social thought within the curriculum.(3)

a) Discovery: Liberal Arts Education. Liberal arts education is essential to a practical application of Catholic social teaching, since liberal education explores the fundamental meaning of the person through a wondrous encounter with creation. This wondrous encounter forms the heart of what we mean by liberal arts education. It is an education that cultivates the capacity (both natural and grace-given) of the student to understand herself as a person, that is as a free and intelligent subject with the capacity to know God, the true, the good and the beautiful. In Fides et Ratio, John Paul II points to the importance of personal discovery arising from wonder.

Driven by the desire to discover the ultimate truth of existence, human beings seek to acquire those universal elements of knowledge which enable them to understand themselves better and to advance in their own self-realization. These fundamental elements of knowledge spring from the wonder awakened in them by the contemplation of creation: Human beings are astonished to discover themselves as part of the world, in a relationship with others like them, all sharing a common destiny. Here begins, then, the journey which will lead them to discover ever new frontiers of knowledge. Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely personal.

Our liberal arts curricula should be ordered to giving students opportunities to experience their own subjectivity - to discover themselves as knowing the truth and contemplating what that means in terms of their relationship with creation, other human beings, and God. These are the moments of formation, or one might say conversion, which will open the student both to the truth expressed in the principles of Catholic social teaching and to the possibility - the desirability - of a loving response to that truth. If our students do not experience wonder and genuine astonishment at the creation that expresses the relationship of the Trinity, how can they conceive the possibility of giving their lives to build up an earthly common good worthy of persons created for eternal participation in that very relationship? Or as Vaclav Havel explained when he received the Philadelphia Liberty Medal,

Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from respect for the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence.(4)

Indeed, it is moments of wondrous discovery that enable students to transcend the siren calls of a materialist culture by making real to them how it might be that all persons share a common destiny and, why, no matter their culture, wealth, poverty or social status, persons must never be considered mere instruments in any system aimed at earthly ends. In these moments, "the very Spirit of Jesus Christ" can lead our students to see that wonder is constitutive of their very lives as persons. This, we propose, is the closest juncture of the intellectual and moral virtues.

Here students learn that they are more important for what they are than for what they have; they learn of their own radical poverty and of their need for community. From the vantage point of wonder, Catholic social principles such as solidarity, subsidiary, the common good, the preferential option for the poor, the universal destination of all property, the subjective dimension of labor and the priority of labor over capital can become intelligible to students not simply as academic formulae, but as expressions of a truth they have personally experienced. Here they become capable of a life, which is genuinely personal.

So a liberal education that cultivates a wondering encounter with creation is the first step in the integration of Catholic social teaching into the curriculum. As with liberal arts, the animating reality of Catholic social teaching is the person - the person understood in the light of the Incarnation and redemption. The student's apprehension of his transcendent nature, i.e. his subjectivity, forms a penetrating criterion for judging all social interaction.(5)

b) Applied courses. In the professional degree programs such as education, business, nursing, engineering, and journalism many of the courses take on a more practical and applied characteristic as the course relates to what students need to know to succeed in their particular field. These programs focus on providing the knowledge and skills necessary for students to function in the field of work. A business student, for example, must learn the skills of reading a balance sheet, calculating cost of capital, providing statistical analysis, targeting and segmenting markets, managing group dynamics, generating creative thinking, initiating problem solving techniques, and mediating conflicts. Without such knowledge and skills that match the necessities of their professional worlds, students would not only be unprepared for their respective job markets, but they would be unprepared as moral agents to as Charles Handy put it "to live so that others can live better after I have gone."(6) A curriculum cannot promote a more just world without introducing students to the actual skills and knowledge necessary to function in the discipline.(7)

Yet, in must not be forgotten that in applied courses such as accounting, nursing, law, engineering, and business administration we teach our students to work. This work may be termed "professional," but it is finally work. Work, according to Catholic social teaching, is an integral part of the development of the human person. It has an essential ethical dimension because through work we become better human beings. This understanding of what is called the subjective dimension of labor is grounded in the original vocation of the human race given in Genesis to have dominion over creation. This dominion is not a license to abuse, but rather a call of rational beings, created in the image and likeness of the God, to continue the creative act of God by shaping the common gift of creation to meet the authentic needs of human persons.

This capacity to wonder at creation leads the student to the subjective dimension of labor and to the essential reality that should be revealed in some form in all applied courses. In the subjective dimension of labor and the call of Genesis we find the highest motivation for technical excellence in applied courses.(8) If an engineering student, led by wonder, understands that her personhood is at stake in how she works and that in her profession she will literally be helping God shape creation to meet the authentic needs of humanity, she will be presented with a reason that transcends future material recompense to study hard and to demand a superior professional education.

From the professional student in wondering contemplation of nature, it is but a short step to realize what this means to the curriculum. There is no technical or professional course that is neutral in the formation of the student, i.e. ethics and spirituality are inherent in all work. All such courses should respond to the reality of work's subjective dimension of labor and, accordingly, be directed to the common good. Their first principles should be determined in accordance with development of the person and the common good. The courses should be professionally and technically excellent. (add on phrase???)

While the primary focus of the applied courses will be on the practical and technical matters of a particular field of study, it is precisely in the study of the practice that opportunities will open to the faculty and students to explore the ethical, spiritual and philosophical implications of practical aspects of the profession. Faculty within the professional schools cannot see themselves in a university context as mere technicians free from introducing into their courses ethical and spiritual aspects of their field.(9) We realize that integration of social and spiritual realities are more subtle as well as inductive and experiential in applied courses. The idea of a full blown theoretical discussion on the Thomistic understanding of the common good will most likely not take place in a marketing or economics course. Yet, failing to bring up the common good at that point in the class when, for example, the theory of the firm is discussed not only misses an opportunity for curricular integration, but also avoids the practical questions business people ask themselves: "What is the social meaning of the firm?" What should a student think of a college's commitment to Catholic social thought when in a theology or philosophy course she is taught the principle of the universal destination of all property and then the finance course in her business administration major is based on the principle of the maximization of shareholder wealth with no discussion over tensions between the two? A curriculum based within a departmental structure will always have certain tensions, but the failure to recognized those tensions and bring them into fuller conversation threatens not only a coherent curriculum but any attempt to educate the whole person fragments rather than develops the student.(10) It should be added that faculty in the liberal arts cannot see themselves in ivory towers untouched by the world of work????

We acknowledge that these criteria place very significant demands on professors and administrators. For example, a business administration program that is genuinely animated in all of its parts by wonder at creation, the subjective dimension of labor, the universal destination of property and the common good, is counter-cultural, intellectually demanding and perhaps financially risky. Our point here simply is that the demands placed on faculty and administrators simply mirror the demands placed on students by Catholic social teaching. Any program that attempts to dump all the ethical and spiritual dimensions of its practice into one course is bound for failure.

c) Integration: An Important Human Experience in Higher Education. It might seem that if these discovery and applied courses are taught well, integrating courses would be redundant in the curriculum. Currently, however, most universities are struggling with what we call the "along side approach" where liberal arts and professional programs have created, to an extent, two kinds of education rather than one. Because of the departmentalized structure of universities and the specialized training of faculty, the division of the curriculum has caused a fault line in a student's education. As far back as 1959, the Carnegie and Ford Reports pinpointed this fault line concerning management education and liberal arts when it stated that "the work students do in liberal arts subjects appears to have little relation to their studies in business and economics and not infrequently consists of a certain number of courses to be gotten out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible."(11) Not only does this cause intellectual fragmentation but it also causes problems for the practitioner. In a letter we received from Clarence Walton on the problem of the "along side approach" he stated: "A CEO cannot manage effectively if his own view is departmentalized." A university that departmentalizes knowledge in an overly strict and rigid fashion creates for students a false outlook for the organizations for which they will work, replicating a overly departmentalized structure in an work organization.(12)

Courses that we describe as "integrating courses" are by their nature interdisciplinary courses which engage in what Jonathan Boswell calls "middle level thinking" where explicit linkages between theory and practice are forged by synthesizing philosophical/theological and professional knowledge. While these integrating elements ought to pervade the whole curriculum, a certain number of courses ought to have these integrating experiences as their prime concern. From our experience, integrating courses are prone to fall through the cracks of the university curriculum from the pressures of maintaining a liberal arts core and the increasing pressures of adding more courses to professional fields. A set of integrating courses, however, can serve as signature courses for the university. What makes the curriculum of any university distinctive should in part derive from the identity of the institution.

Critical to some of these integrating courses in a Catholic college and university is Catholic social thought. As we mentioned above, Catholic social thought is a social vision that is theologically grounded, morally based, institutionally embodied and publicly argued. It is these four characteristics which prevent it from being captured in one academic discipline. It is also the engagement of these four characteristics that can provide a powerful integrating experience for students. While Catholic social thought can be integrated throughout the curriculum in several ways we provide three kinds of courses: a university capstone course, a graduate level capstone course and a service learning course.

a) University Capstone Course: Often a particular major offers students a capstone course which attempts to integrate the variety of knowledge they have learned throughout their major degree. While most majors offer capstone courses, most colleges and universities do not offer a capstone or integrative experience of the student's whole education. The question for a Catholic university is what kind of course offers the capacity to integrate their whole university experience. While ethics and service learning are critically necessary to help students experience integration, they cannot, by themselves, carry the weight of an integrating experience. For example, courses in professional ethics, whether, business, legal, or medical, tend to relegate religious and spiritual traditions to the periphery in human decisions. Yet, for many practitioners it is often from a faith perspective that human action makes sense, since what we think it ultimately good derives from what we think is ultimately true. If an ethics course fails to connect the human activity under examination to larger belief systems, it runs the danger of becoming either overly legalistic or highly utilitarian. It also loses the capacity to provide a full experience of integration. This is precisely why Catholic social thought is critical to the integration of ethics in courses on the professions.

At the University of St. Thomas, a series of courses on "Faith and the Professions" are cross-listed with theology and Catholic Studies. The courses have been design to incorporate Catholic social thought and Catholic moral theology with professional programs. The courses are:

  • Christian Faith and the Management Professions(13)
  • Christian Faith and the Legal Professions
  • Christian Faith and the Medical Professions
  • Christian Faith and the Educational Professions (currently being developed)

One of the most important marks of these courses is they are team taught when possible. It is a powerful experience for a student to walk into a classroom and see a theology and management professor or theology and law professor in front of the room discussing with them the integrating components of Catholic social thought and the respective discipline. A course that explicitly integrates Catholic social thought and a specific professional discipline such as management, education, law, journalism, medicine/biology, etc. provides students a capstone experience to their whole university education.(14)

b) Integrating Elements within Graduate Level Courses: Particularly in a graduate program where liberal arts courses are not offered, a program should offer within its capstone or introductory courses a team taught course with someone from theology and philosophy who can help to incorporate Catholic social thought into major field areas. In a MBA capstone strategy course, for example, principles of the common good, subsidiarity, solidarity, and even option for the poor confronts the questions of the course. Particularly in a capstone course, students find it refreshing as well as rewarding to take a larger look at their professional activity and organizational purpose as they prepare to leave the program.(15)

c) Service Learning: The 1990s brought to Catholic higher education a commitment to service learning, volunteerism and a keen awareness of urban issues and the university's responsibilities toward them. The 1990s also brought to Catholic colleges and universities a rich and robust discussion of the meaning of identity and mission. There seems to be general agreement that both movements have contributed to a deepening awareness of the mission and identity of the Catholic university and how it should operationalize its values. Unfortunately, while these two movements have been tangentially related, they have not fully benefited from each other, largely, because of their relative isolation from each other. If a synthesis of these movements is clearly articulated, that synthesis can confidently move the Catholic university into the 21st century with a coherence of purpose and action that can renew the mission of American Catholic higher education. The foundation to this synthesis is eloquently expressed in the principles of Catholic social thought.

Catholic social thought, as a defined and explicit intellectual tradition, has the capacity to bring out the practical, interdisciplinary implications of the Catholic identity question as well as deepen the philosophical and theological implications of service learning. Catholic social thought can serve as a bridge to bring these two significant movements into greater harmony and deeper appreciation of each other.

While the connections between service learning and Catholic social thought appear to be obvious, the fact that little integration between the two indicates weaknesses in the implementation of each of them. While many faculty have incorporated service learning experiences within their courses, faculty have struggled to incorporate an intellectual reflection process that would deepen the experience. When a reflection process has been integrated, it tends to be absent of any theological component. Catholic social thought, however, suffers from the opposite problem. John Paul explains that "Today more than ever, the Church is aware that her social message will gain credibility more immediately from the witness of actions than as a result of its internal logic and consistency."(16) Academic theologians, who have been the main transmitters of Catholic social thought, have tended to ignore its practical applications except in the broadest political terms.

The PULSE program at Boston College has sought the integration described above providing students "with the opportunity to combine supervised social service or social advocacy field work with the study of Philosophy, Theology, and other disciplines. In light of classical philosophical and theological texts, PULSE students address the relationship of self and society, the nature of community, the mystery of suffering, and the practical difficulties of developing a just society.(17) Loyola Baltimore's "The Service-Leadership Program" is also working toward further integrating Catholic social principles into the experience of students, especially option of the poor, solidarity and the common good. The director of the program, Sandra Gooding, who teaches in the marketing department, incorporates Catholic social thought and service learning in her "Consumer Behavior and Communication" by taking her class to a Beans and Bread mean program to talk with women in the neighborhood to examine consumer behavior of economically disadvantage women and the structures which make it difficult to overcome their poverty. As she put it, "They have learned far more from these discussions than any textbook could teach them." There is also a business strategy course which provides service to inner city business and non-profit organizations.(18)

Integrating Catholic Social Thought in Curriculum

  • Discovery: A strong liberal arts core which focuses on the mystery of the human person.
  • Applied: A strong professional program which understands the respective field of study not only technically but also in terms of the moral and spiritual implication of the profession.
  • Integration: A strong interdisciplinary program which fosters connections among disciplines to help students integrate knowledge.

2) Faculty Development and Research:

The realization of a curriculum that embodies the discovery, applied and integrating elements described above is primarily dependent on the faculty. Without a faculty who can incorporate these ideas within the curriculum, students will lose out to the potential of Catholic education. This raises some difficult questions. In light of the fact that many faculty who come to Catholic universities have been educated in specialized programs that have bracketed discussions of justice and spirituality from their study and research, Catholic colleges and universities will not incorporate Catholic social thought throughout the curriculum unless they address faculty development. Do we have a faculty prepared to integrate justice, particularly an understanding of justice from the Catholic social tradition, within their courses? One of the greatest obstacles to overcome in addressing both justice education and the Catholic social tradition is to introduce faculty into intellectual depth and appeal of what this means. We see four effective means to accomplish this task: summer seminars, team teaching, occasional lectures/discussion groups, and faculty research.

1) Summer Seminars.Providing faculty opportunities to engage the tradition of Catholic social thought and its implications is a necessary step to any Catholic university. The importance of sustained discussions on a 2000 year-old intellectual tradition cannot be under-emphasized particularly in a culture that sentimentalizes and privatizes religion and the spiritual life. We have found, particularly with the reading of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that faculty are struck by the richness and even nobility of the Catholic intellectual tradition. We offer three types seminars as ways of engaging faculty:

  • Aspen Seminar on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition: A four day retreat among faculty from the same university to discuss the "great books" in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.(19)
  • Week Seminar: A series of faculty seminars on Catholic identity. Taking a week in the summer, faculty meet from 9-12 to discuss various texts on a particular theme (curriculum, faculty, academic freedom). After the seminar, faculty write an essay which is published in a collection of essays distributed to all faculty.(20)
  • Collegium is a national effort supported by over 50 Catholic colleges and universities "to recruit and develop faculty who can articulate and enrich the spiritual and intellectual life of their institutions."(21)

2) Lectures and Faculty Discussion Groups. It is important to provide opportunities throughout the year to allow faculty to participate in discussions concerning Catholic social thought and Catholic identity which does not entail a great time commitment. It is also a good follow-up for faculty who have had an intense and sustain experience in a summer seminar to revisit the subject matter throughout the year.

3) Team Teaching Team teaching can be a very effective method for faculty development, possibly one of the most effective, since it directly relates the subject matter to teaching. Of course, allowing all faculty to team teach is financially unsustainable, but a Catholic university can use team teaching as a mission driven priority to develop its Catholic identity. See the list of the courses provided above on "integration" under the curriculum section.

4) Faculty Research. To guarantee the engagement between Catholic social thought and the various disciplines within the university, Catholic universities must prioritize their faculty development programs to allocate funding in this area, and encourage research projects among professional schools. Lee Tavis, a finance professor at the University of Notre Dame, explains that Catholic social thought on human dignity, the common good, justice, and preferential option for the poor provides a larger context and fuller analysis when examining improvements in efficiency, considerations in global resource allocation, global textile markets, and so forth. "As one whose early academic career was based on mathematical planning models for multinational corporations, I can attest to the challenge of including the poor in the analysis and in encouraging their participation."(22) The role of faculty research as it relates to the Catholic social thought does not mean restricting the research program of the university to these issues. But it does mean that such research has a presence at a Catholic university. Tavis explains that "The key is to find a balanced way to nurture the study of moral issues advised by Catholic social teaching in a manner that enhances and is enriched by technical research." This approach to research is congruent, for example, with American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB-accrediting agency for business schools) mission driven guidelines, which indicate that faculty research should reflect the mission of the institution. At a Catholic university, faculty who engage in their research in the area of Catholic social though would be in conformity to accreditation guidelines. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this research as well as its theological and ecclesial dimensions, it may not be well received in the various professional journals. A Catholic university then must have different reward systems concerning tenure and promotion, and research awards from state universities.(23)

3) Administrative Responsibilities:

The administration of the institution must decide its own level of commitment to education in Catholic social thought. This commitment must be expressed clearly and publicly both in deed and word. This public expression must first take place in terms of the administrators own witness to this tradition. As administrators who lead and manage Catholic universities, they must not overlook the obvious: they are agents of this social tradition who must manage and lead Catholic universities according to the social principles of their own Catholic mission. Taking serious the principles of human dignity, common good, participation, subsidiarity, and the virtues of justice, solidarity, and prudence in managing a Catholic college or university would model the importance of Catholic social thought. An administrative seminar or retreat on the relationship between managing a Catholic university and the Catholic social tradition would be an important first step.

Secondly, administrators must publicly articulate a vision that incorporates the rich social tradition of its mission. In an article directed to executives of corporations, Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal point out the important role of executives to focus on articulating a powerful and distinctive purpose for the organization. They argue that a strong articulated purpose attracts those who are committed to the mission of the organization. "Companies that assert more boldly what they stand for typically attract and retain employees who identify with their values and become more deeply committed to the organization that embodies them."(24) They explain that executives should place less emphasis on following a clear strategic plan than on building a rich, engaging corporate purpose.

For administrators of Catholic universities, this means articulating a vision of the university, which incorporates its Catholic identity and social character. If a president of a Catholic university articulates the Catholic vision of his institution, he must not simply recall the richness of a great past, but articulate the social implications of that past for the present and the future. Or if a president articulates the importance of values or of the urban responsibilities of the university, he must not remain in the vagueness of those words, but articulate the specific contribution the Catholic tradition has to offer. Again, the purpose of the university must be rich, distinct, bold and engaging with the contemporary world.

Thirdly, concrete actions must be taken to access accurately the operational success or deficiency of Catholic social thought at the university. Particularly after the findings of the USCC taskforce on Catholic social thought and Catholic education, a committee should be established to explore the best way to effectuate the commitment to Catholic social thought. Members of the committee should cut across the entire academic program with the task of providing the following information:

Audit: An inventory of current Catholic social thought resources. While such an act may seem mechanical, administrators need to know what they have on hand as they move forward in better fulfilling their purpose as a university. Every Catholic college and university already have some level of expertise in Catholic social thought. There are courses in moral philosophy, moral theology, perhaps even specific courses in Catholic social thought. There are usually faculty qualified to teach some aspect of Catholic social thought. There may be existing faculty in any number of disciplines who are interested in Catholic social thought, but have not been prepared to include such content in their classes. Included in this inventory should be a student-centered approach, which asks the following questions: If students in the institution's two most popular majors wanted an education that integrates the principles of Catholic social thought, what does the institution offer them? What series of courses currently offered by the institution would the administrator or committee advise the students to take? Does the current level of activities measure up to the enunciated commitment to Catholic social thought?

Resources: To better articulate the mission of a Catholic university especially as it relates to Catholic social thought a university, like any organization, needs two critical resources: capital and labor. Capital: The allocation of financial resources both in terms of raising new capital by finding donors who are interested in supporting programs that will better integrate Catholic social thought within the university, and redirecting existing sources that better serve the mission of the institution. Labor: Realizing that a university may not have all the necessary people to implement its commitment to Catholic social thought, the administration needs to assess whether they have people who can integrate Catholic social thought within economics, political science, business and so forth.(25)


Last year a USCC task force on Catholic social teaching and Catholic education noted that within Catholic higher education "There appears to be little consistent attention given to incorporating gospel values and Catholic social teaching into general education courses or into departmental majors."(26) This is a significant and challenging criticism of Catholic colleges and universities. As a conclusion to this talk, may we be perhaps more pointed?

As the person is the way of the Church, the student is the way of the Catholic college or university. Catholic social teaching is a challenge to students to understand that loving service to the common good in this life is a response to and expression of who they are destined to be now and for eternity. It is nothing more or less than an explication of the deepest truth about themselves and their vocation as Christians. It is about their whole lives.

We echo the insight of Jacques Maritain from over 50 years ago when he called for an integral education for, that is in the service of, an integral humanism-an education of the whole person. Interdisciplinary studies, integrating courses, service learning, all of these means are hollow if they are not animated by the intent to assist the student to live a fully Christian life. If the meaning of the student's life is consistently incorporated into general education courses and into departmental majors, integration of the curriculum will follow. If the curriculum is fragmented, it is a sign the institution has lost sight of the student.(27)

As educators we all know that the lives of our students, not buildings, conferences, or publications, is the final measure of our work. For that reason we submit that a critical goal of every Catholic college and university should be:

That students in community through the dialogue of faith and reason come to know the truth expressed in the principles of Catholic social teaching and, in a response rooted in love and ordered to their salvation, commit their whole lives, in the Gospel sense, to building up a common good worthy of persons created for eternal participation in the life of the Trinity.


1. Dennis McCann, (Back)

2. Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 36-40. "'[S]tructures of sin,'" are rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts, of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the sources of other sins, and so influence people's behavior." (#36) The only way to overcome structural sin is through commitment to the common good. (Back)

3. See E.L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (Princeton NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990). (Back)

4. Vaclave Havel, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997): 171-172. (Back)

5. In Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, John Paul II concisely expressed this "personalism" as follows: "The dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being. The force of this affirmation is based on the uniqueness and irrepeatability of every person. From it flows that the individual can never be reduced by all that seeks to crush and to annihilate the person into the anonymity that comes from collectivity, institutions, structures and systems. As an individual, a person is not a number or simply a link in a chain, nor even less, an impersonal element in some system. The most radical and elevating affirmation of the value of every human being was made by the Son of God becoming man in the womb of a woman" (LM 37). It is precisely here that the person of Jesus Christ is the ultimate source and focus of our wonder. Therefore, the wonder arising from the liturgy and the Eucharist must be integrated with liberal education at a Catholic institution of higher education in order to make Catholic social thought real to our students. (Back)

6. Quoted from Verstraeten, "Beyond Business Ethics." Given at the Third International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education" Goa, India, January 10-12. (Back)

7. In many professional degree programs, this body of applied knowledge is growing significantly. In education, state requirements add courses to an already crowded curriculum, many engineering programs take 5 instead of 4 years for completion, nursing programs crowd out the number of traditional liberal arts courses a student can take. (Back)

8. In On Human Work, John Paul II said, "In every phase of the development of his work, man comes up against the leading role of the gift made by "nature," that is to say, in the final analysis, by the Creator." It is in this response to God's gift of creation that we become aware of our transcendent dignity constituting the apex of our humanity. No social mechanism or collective subject can substitute our response to this gift. It is a fact that in an accounting course, for example, the very meaning of our students lives and their eternal destiny is at stake. (Back)

9. For example, according to Porter and McKibben most business schools have succeeded in providing students with the skills and techniques necessary to enter the organizational world. This task has been largely accomplished through their functional courses such as marketing, operations, finance, accounting, and so forth. They report that overall businesses are satisfied with the incoming skills of management graduates. What is not as successful, however, is the contextualization of the skills in the broader purpose of the organization. The techniques of functional courses are powerful organizational tools that have implications in the areas of property, authority, participation, and so forth, all of which have a tremendous effect on the human person. Yet, this larger context has largely been absent from functional courses in any systematic way. With functional faculty trained in specialized areas, the tendency is not to engage the techniques and skills of the function beyond economic principles of maximization. This should not be surprising since many functional faculty have spent their graduate and professional career ignoring such a context. This is not to say that faculty are hostile toward considering such questions; rather, they are not clear how they would do it, nor are they convinced how important such an engagement is in light of ever increasing knowledge in their own area. An important challenge for functional courses is to examine how their disciplines relate to the larger anthropological and moral questions of the organization and society as well as how their disciplines relate to the common enterprise of the university. Unlike the other areas above where a particular course or research topic would come close to embodying the integration of the two areas, the integration of principle and technique need to be infused into existing functional courses which have predominately focused on technique. See Porter, Lyman W. and Lawrence E. McKibbin. Management Education and Development: Drift or Thrust into the 21st Century? (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1988). (Back)

10. For examples of syllabi, course notes, and lectures relating Catholic social thought and management education see (Back)

11. Ibid. (Back)

12. Michael Naughton and Thomas Bausch "The Integrity of an Undergraduate Catholic School of Management: Four Integrating Characteristics." California Management Review (Summer 1996) Michael Naughton, Thomas Bausch and Ernest Pierucci, "Catholic Identity of an Undergraduate Management Education: A Survey of Business Faculty, Business Deans, and Academic Vice Presidents." Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education. (Back)

13. See (Back)

14. The John F. Henning Institute at Saint Mary's Moraga California hosted a conference on Catholic social thought across the curriculum (March 12-13, 1999) which provided models and ideas for integrating Catholic social thought within the curriculum. Contact Steven Cortright in the philosophy department for further details (925-631-4461). While a specific course in Catholic social thought, especially as it relates to a specific field of inquiry (politics, business, military, economics, etc) will be critical to students, one course cannot adequately confront the student with the philosophical and theological issues at stake in Catholic social thought and allow students to make Catholic social thought's principles their own. (Back)

15. See (Back)

16. Centesimus Annus, 57. (Back)

17. See (Back)

18. Sandra Gooding can be contacted at (Back)

19. For summary of this seminar see (Back)

20. To view some of the essays see (Back)

21. See (Back)

22. Tavis, Lee. "Professional Education in a Catholic University." In The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University ed. Theodore M. Hesburgh, (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994): 329-338. (Back)

23. For examples of what this research might look like for management see the conference papers at the Second International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education ( (Back)

24. Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal, "Changing the Role of Top Management: Beyond Strategy to Purpose" (HBR 94601). (Back)

25. There are of course other important ways to incorporate Catholic social thought throughout Catholic colleges and universities such as alumni outreach by developing ongoing forums for spiritual and social reflection through faith and work breakfasts and small group prayer/discussion groups. The Woodstock Business Conference serves as an ideal forum for this. Alumni have a lot to offer to the university not only in financial contributions but also in human experience in living faith-filled lives (web page). Also providing student groups within schools that would focus on integrating faith and their discipline through retreats, social gathers, prayer, discussion groups, movie discussions, service projects, and so forth. (Back)

26. In a survey of business faculty at Catholic universities, a majority of the faculty believed that students should encounter Catholic social thought in their business education, but most of them did believe that had enough background to provide this encounter for the student. (Back)

27. While departmental structures provide significant strengths to a university by focusing, specializing and analyzing specific and define realms of knowledge, they also provide a significant weakness by not giving due time and energy to the connections, links, and bridges between the various realms of knowledge. One way around this problem of specialization of departments is creating centers and institutes that foster interdisciplinary forums to promote interdisciplinary courses, faculty and administrative development programs, and other possibilities to integrate Catholic social thought within the university. Structure, as traditional strategic planners argue, must follow mission. Catholic social thought can overcome one of the significant weaknesses of a university-its departmental structure and over specialization, which while provides significant strengths, suffers from isolating its subject matter from other fields of knowledge and thus presenting to students a fragmented vision of themselves. (Back)

© 2000 Ernest S. Pierucci, Esq. and Michael Naughton