Author’s note: I started writing this article over three years ago. It’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. I have removed all identifying information about the university in question and respectfully request that any comment-box discussion does the same; I am considering forwarding this to the university administration so that they can plan future admissions events with this in mind. But as college-tour season is in full swing, this has been on my mind lately. I wanted to publish it and invite discussion.
When I take a high-school student to visit a Catholic college, I don’t expect the tour guides to genuflect at every statue in the quad. That’s just not reasonable.
It’s also not reasonable for a student tour guide at a Catholic university to stand in the chapel with a group of high-school seniors and their parents and say, “We don’t force religion on you here, except for the 2 or 3 religion classes everyone has to take.”
Why is this university apologizing, through its tour guides, for its Catholic character–a Catholic character which is evident not only in the statues on campus and religious art in the classrooms, but in its huge commitment to community service and in the presence and participation of an impressive number of Religious who are not only professors but also administrators, counselors, support staff, and (in some cases) dormitory dwellers?
Doing so weakens the very foundation upon which Catholic education is built. Excuses should never be made for offering religion classes, community-service opportunities and religious services or for encouraging students to take part in them.
Perhaps our tour guide, who was quite competent in the art of giving a tour and in her knowledge of the University, its history, and what it offers, was acting on her own when she made this statement. I certainly hope that this is the case, because I would hate to think that a university with a long history of Catholic character and community service that encompasses all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy would deliberately downplay the very character that makes the University stand out among the other institutions of higher learning in the same city.
The University’s Catholic character is to be celebrated, not swept under the chapel rug. No one expects the University to force religion down its students’ throats, but neither should you pretend that it is not an important part of both academic and community life there.