New CUA President Appeals to Newman

John H. Garvey, President of the Catholic University of America

On 25 Jan. 2011 at the Catholic University of America,  John Garvey, former law professor at Notre Dame and Dean of Boston College Law School, was inaugurated president of the University. The CUA is blessed to have Dr. Garvey as their new president, not least because Newman and Aristotle serve as inspirations for his vision of what a Catholic University ought to be.

His address, entitled, “Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University” exhibited the perspicacity which is attributed to those intellectual virtues a university is meant to develop. His address was frank, lucid, and altogether avoided any kind of smugness. You can read the entire address HERE; the eight pages are definitely worth the read. My only serious complaint about Garvey’s address is that it was delivered at the National Shrine, D.C., rather than at Sint-Pieterskerk, Leuven.

In addition to Dr. Garvey’s straight-talk, refreshing was his not un-critical diagnosis of the impasse in Catholic higher education.

I think the fault for this flat, crabbed, cartoonish vision of Catholic higher education lies not with the critics of religion but with us. We have been so intent on defending ourselves against charges of fundamentalism and censorship that we have failed to create, let alone promote, a serious Catholic intellectual culture. Think of the schools of thought we have seen come (and go) in the academy in our lifetimes: Marxism, modernism, post-modernism, feminism, law and economics, critical race theory, queer theory, and so on. And ask yourself whether, in the Catholic intellectual tradition, there is not enough material to get our own movement going.

In typical Newmanian fashion, Garvey points out not only the inter-connectedness of all disciplines, but the ubiquity of the moral dimension which pervades university studies:

You cannot study migration, the environment, the economy, interpersonal relationships, death and dying, or the history of capitalism without making ethical judgments of the kind Aristotle had in mind. Sociology is not, pace Comte, a value-free science. Nor is Anthropology, Economics, Psychology, or History.

Garvey mentions that the CUA was founded “after the pattern of the ancient Catholic University of Louvain.” Today, perhaps Leuven could benefit from the reverse.

The Newman–Louvain (Leuven) Connection

The Louvain Newman Society (LNS) is proud of both its patron and the University of which it is a part. Of all societies newmanian, the LNS has a unique and privileged connection to Newman.

In 1834, the Belgian bishops resurrected the Catholic University of Louvain. About two decades later, John Henry Newman led the project to establish the Catholic University of Ireland. Much has been written on this venture and the ultimate failure of the CUI. Quite obviously, Newman’s Idea of a University has outlived the institution which the writings inspired; but the institution which inspired the writings is still alive.

It is well known that Newman’s University project was, in large part, inspired by the Catholic University of Louvain. Upon the recent success of Louvain’s re-establishment, Newman and the Irish bishops looked at Belgium as the home to a model institution, Louvain, the Catholic University par excellence!

Throughout the development of the CUI, Newman was in correspondence with the then rector of Louvain, Mgr. De Ram. In a letter to him, Newman wrote, “I find that the Sacred Congregation of Progaganda much approves the anxiety I have ever felt to conform our University to that of Louvain…Under these circumstances, I shall do well to draw the lines closer still, which unite your great institution with those, with which I…am …connected here.” (Letter to Mgr. de Ram 1856)

Why was Louvain, for Newman, such a “great institution” worthy of being emulated? In point of fact, one should rephrase: Considering Louvain as a model instantiation of a Catholic University ideal, what was there not to like? In addition to Louvain’s governmental structure, its academics and student life appealed to Newman.


The C.U.I.'s Sedes Sapientiae

The intellectual character

On the academic side of things, Newman revered Louvain because it had successfully maintained the medieval ideal of a unity of knowledge. The university sought to teach universal knowledge and, as such, was called to cover the whole field of human knowledge, including the liberal arts. Such maintenance manifested itself in the curriculum which directed the intercourse between the traditional faculties of law, medicine, theology, and their prerequisite, the arts (letters and sciences).  Developing the culture of the mind, for Newman, was the primary end of the university. It was through liberal education that one was to develop this ‘philosophical habit of mind’; any university which deviated from this task by dismissing the necessity of the liberal arts compromised its claim to be a university.

The moral character

It may sound absurd today, but (believe it or not) Newman admired the management of student discipline at Louvain as “combining freedom in the students with the safeguard of Catholic morality.” (Letters, 1853). Newman believed that recreation was essential to fostering a constructive social life of students, which in turn, would contribute to expanding the mind and developing moral character. Newman himself insisted upon encouraging students to attend the theatre; he made sure there was a billiard table and cricket grounds; he encouraged a free spirit of student debate in a society precisely because the University was Catholic; Newman also, no doubt, gave pride of place to music and the cultivation which accompanies both its listening and performance. And finally, he saw to it that a few rooms be reserved for “private parties, breakfast,  or wine extra.”


The K.U.L.'s Sedes Sapientiae

Here in Leuven, we can substitute ‘beer’ for ‘wine’ and already be one step closer to Newman’s ideal. The K.U.L. has an incredible tradition, not just in its theology, but in its academic culture generally, and in its ability to coordinate the discourse between faith and reason– between fidelity and inquiry. Newman and others in the 19th c. witnessed this, and the LNS today seeks to continue this witness.

I’ll let Newman have the last word. He says that the mind,

As intellectual…apprehends truth; as moral, it apprehends duty. The perfection of the intellect is called ability and talent; the perfection of our moral nature is virtue. And it is our great misfortune here, and our trial, that, as things are found in the world, the two are separated, and independent of each other; that, where power of intellect is, there need not be virtue; and that where right, and goodness, and moral greatness are, there need not be talent. It was not so in the beginning…

(Preached before the CUI (at High Mass!).  “Intellect, the Instrument of Religious Training”, published in Sermons Preached on Various Occasions)

Andrew Meszaros (president of the LNS)

Further Reading

Colin Barr Paul Cullen, John Henry Newman, and the Catholic Unviersity of Ireland, 1845-1865 (UND Press, 2003).

Angelo Bottone The Philosophical Habit of Mind: Rhetoric and Person in John Henry Newman’s Dublin Writings (Zeta Books, 2010).

A. Dwight Culler The Imperial Intellect: A Study of Newman’s Educational Ideal, (YUP, 1955).

Alasdair MacIntyre, “The Very Idea of a University: Aristotle, Newman and Us,” New Blackfriars 91 (2010) 4-19.

Fergal McGrath Newman’s University, Idea and Reality (Richview Press, 1951).