Our mistake at this time lay in our misconception of conditions in Catholic colleges. We thought them much better than they were, and it took us two years to learn how heavy were the inroads which Liberalism had made into Catholic education.
At St. Benedict Center, Father Feeney preached against the evils in post-war secular education, of which we had ample evidence in the colleges around us. The students to whom Father spoke were well aware of the truth of that he was saying; indeed they had complained to him many times of their dissatisfaction and disappointment with their courses. As time wore on, many of them decided for themselves that there followed upon the realization of evils the obligation of correcting them. It would have been far easier to shake their heads over the situation, as hundreds did, and go on enjoying the prestiges and benefits of membership in famous colleges. They could have rationalized that the whole situation was so large that it was impossible for any one person or any small group to do anything about it.
Resignation from Harvard or Radcliffe entailed so much courage (and sacrifice of a certain kind) on the part of a student, that Father Feeney never would direct a man or a girl to do it. He could but state the inadequacies and errors in the education they were receiving, and leave it up to them to do whatever, in conscience, they felt should be done about it. As student after student made the decision to resign from college- giving frankly in his resignation to the college his reasons for doing so- Father was tremendously proud of them. He was grateful that something as beautiful as this could happen in our land, which seemed completely to be given over to the quest of wealth, power, or worldly prestige, with no thought of God or of what was owed to Him.
With each resignation, however, there came the question of another college for the student. The Center curriculum did not offer pre-medical work or concentrated courses in science. Around this time, we made up a “Statement of Aims” of the St. Benedict Center School, which will perhaps best explain the nature of our own school and why it would not, in all cases, fit the needs of students who desired to make science their profession. However, I should say that we have always maintained that if a man could spend the time for a liberal education in the full sense of the term, and then go on to science (if he wished to make that his life work), he would bring to his field a judgment and wisdom which would make him a more excellent scientist: There follows the “Statement of Aims” of St. Benedict Center School as it appeared in our catalogue:
St. Benedict Center at the present time is deliberately a small school. Its faculty, however, is an eminent one, and its library excellent. Its aim is to give a thorough education in Liberal Arts, modelled on the classic traditions of the best universities of Europe, at which its faculty, with the exception of three or four, have studied. St. Benedict Center is interested in close cooperation between faculty and students, and for that purpose the teachers mutually attend each other’s classes, and are at the call of the students for special instruction or query at almost any time of the school day. The teachers thereby see exactly, what instruction is being given the student in every subject, and this contributes enormously to that most difficult of all educational problems, personal guidance.
…St. Benedict Center is qualified to offer academic work leading to B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. Its work is mainly in the field of special research in the classics.
The students who resigned from Harvard and Radcliffe were anxious to make their secular studies in the light of their Faith, and so we advised one or other Catholic college for them, without hesitation. We had been placing advanced Center students on the faculties of Catholic colleges, where they had been well received. Father Keleher, the President of Boston College, later told Father Feeney that he was grateful for the caliber of the students Father had sent to Boston College, both to the undergraduate and graduate schools.
We were completely unprepared, therefore, for the return of these students who transferred to Catholic colleges, bearing the same tale of disappointment and dissatisfaction we had heard from them before. They had found not too much difference between the college they had left and the college to which they had transferred. For both colleges were similar in aim and in outlook, in presentation of material and in subject matter. The Catholic college, it is true, did not utter such explicit apostasy. Its apostasy was more implicit, and took the form of a wholesale aping of secular standards.
The Catholic colleges did not say outright that man is in the world for the achieving of his own ends, that he is the alpha and the omega of all things. They did not say, as the teachers in secular colleges, that man’s eternal destiny is only an idea that some theologians and philosophers like to play with; that it is the notion which made for the backwardness! of the Dark Ages and the superstition of the Middle Ages; that it is, in fact, the reason why Catholic countries today are without modern improvements, such as bathtubs and showers! But the courses in the Catholic colleges were nevertheless, completely secularized. The religion course was in a compartment all by itself, and its presentation was dull and mediocre, without fire, and it communicated its message not at all to the other courses in the curriculum. These courses seemed to be set up only with an eye to making the student, later on, a rich man or a power in some field where his scientific prestige or political aggrandizement would redound to the glory of the college. Even a mediocre student could, for the most part, be assured of a good job upon graduation. And every student could be sure that he would look like and be like every other college graduate of every other college in America, whether Catholic or non-Catholic. That he was totally unaware that his Faith was the most exciting thing in the world, and that the full living of it would change the world, seemed not to matter to anyone.
Christ had said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I but that it be kindled?” Father Feeney had kindled such a fire at St. Benedict Center. If our students who transferred to Catholic colleges had not had the experience of secular colleges beforehand, and if they had not gone out from the flame which is Father Feeney, they would not have been so thoroughly chilled and disillusioned by the Catholic colleges.
We had no need to ask ourselves for long how this state of things had come to pass in Catholic education. The answer was right before our eyes, across the street in Harvard Yard. Twenty-four Jesuit priests were studying that year at Harvard. (Other Orders, thanks to this encouragement, were beginning to send members, too. Even the archdiocese of Boston sent its Superintendent of Schools to be prepared in the Harvard Department of Education, and nuns were seen all during the summer in the walks of Harvard College.) The Greeks had a saying, “Send your son to school to a slave, and he will become a slave.” We might add, “Send your priests and nuns to secular schools, and they will become secular teachers- in Catholic colleges.”
The Harvard Jesuits were the classmates of Harvard and Radcliffe students who came regularly for the St. Benedict Center courses, and the presence of the priests in many of the students’ classes was a constant confusion and disedification to them. Our students often saw the priests sit, apparently unmoved, in the classes of atheists and Marxist sympathizers. The priests listened while these professors frequently denied Christ, questioned His claims, belittled Him, or cast reflections on devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Through it all, the priests remained. if not smiling and serene, at least without open protest and complaint, the kind that any true priest is required to give under circumstances such as these. The Harvard Jesuits were always on most cordial terms with the professors, and often called them by their first names. They seemed to be interested in everything except what was happening to Catholic dogmas in the courses which they attended.
Father Feeney, after most bitter experience, forbade the Harvard Jesuits to come to St. Benedict Center. He did so because they were consistently undoing the work the Center was trying to do, and this the students openly admitted. There then began against Father Feeney a crusade of persecution on the part of the Harvard Jesuits which is almost beyond mention. The Jesuit superiors knew about this, but never, so far as we knew, was anything done to censure the Harvard Jesuits.
The academic prestige of a college, it is true, comes in great part from the advanced degrees held by its faculty, and it is true also that it was for the purpose of obtaining academic recognition in this way that priests and nuns went, in the beginning, to secular colleges. However, to take the example of the Jesuits, by the time a member of the Society of Jesus is ready for graduate work at a secular college he has had from fourteen to sixteen years of academic work, an amazingly long period of study. One of the deans of Harvard College, whose field of study was history, once said to Father Feeney, “What have we got to teach your men in history? I tried to tell that to one of your priests who came to me last week. ‘Why are you here?’, I asked him. ‘We don’t have any more to give you.’ ”
The Jesuits hold that the end does not justify the means. None of the secular colleges have knowledges according to the pattern which a priest should be teaching. Everybody knows and can see that harm comes to the faith of the priests in these universities. This is one of the most common subjects of conversation among the students. If it were true that the Jesuits did not know this, it would be a scandal. The Jesuits do know this, and many of their members have violently protested against it, but the powers in control of the Jesuit Order at the present moment are the minority which favors this procedure.
They are such Jesuits as Father Jean Baptiste Janssens, S.J., a liberal Belgian Jesuit, responsible for the type of scholarship that the Bollandists are famous for; responsible also for the type of scholarship which induced Father de Letter, S.J., after his studies in orientalism, to devise a new meaning for the “soul of the Church”, which is a blasphemy against the Incarnation and the Virginal Mother of God.
A Catholic college whose prestige is built on the advanced degrees of its priests, bought at such a price, defeats the whole purpose, the raison d’être, of a Catholic college. What if students come out of Catholic colleges with less chemistry technique, but more of the Faith? Less impure “sociological’ delving, but more realization of the Mother of God? Less anthropological mythology, but more of the Fathers and the Doctors? The world would be a better place, for the having of them in it. They would make less money, it is true, but they would be aiming for holiness, pleasing God, and saving their souls.
It would fare better for Catholic colleges, it seems to us, if they had, on their faculties, more Curés d’Ars,” 1 and less Ph.D.’s. The times in which we live are badly in need of saints in the priesthood. And we are supplying, at the present, a conforming, course-taking, liberal clergy.
Thus was the story, as we saw it, of the failure of Catholic colleges in the post-war period in America. The inroads of Liberalism had disequipped them for the strong religious leadership of their own people. But what underlay Liberalism? Always in every heresy there is the displacement of some central doctrine. What was the central doctrine in the Deposit of Faith (because every defined doctrine of the Church is either implicitly or explicitly contained in the Deposit of Faith 2) which Liberalism had displaced? We set about finding out; and eventually we did find out.
1 St. John Mary Vianney, the “Curé d’Ars” was parish priest of Ars, in France, for nearly forty-two years. He was born in 1786 and died in 1859. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI, in 1925. He had little formal learning, but he taught his spiritual children from the wisdom of his great sanctity.
2 Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, p. 150. “The Deposit of Faith. That body of revelation, containing truths to be believed and principles of conduct which was given by Christ to the Apostles, to be preserved by them and their successors, with the guarantee of infallibility, for the guidance of the Church. It embraces the truths of both Scripture and Tradition. Some of its articles are explicit in Scripture, e.g., the Word was made flesh: and others are implicit, e.g., the Immaculate Conception (q.v.). It closed with the death of the last surviving apostle. It is entrusted to the infallible Magisterium (q.v.) of the Church to preserve, unfold and defend the Deposit. The word is found in 1 Tim. vi. 20. Depositum custodi, “Keep that which is committed to why trust.” . . The term is consecrated by the Council of the Vatican (sess. iii, cap. 4): “And the doctrine of faith which God revealed is proposed not as a mere philosophical discovery to be elaborated by human minds, but as the divine deposit delivered by Christ to his spouse, to be by her faithfully guarded and infallibly declared.”