A Question of Collegiate and Cultural Identity


Not to give the latest copycat protests at Providence College more attention than they deserve, but this passage in a Providence Journal article strikes me as raising a critical point:

[President Rev. Brian ] Shanley instead announced he wanted to write a pact using his own words, but couldn’t do it “right now.” Mary-Murphy Walsh, a senior and one organizer, said the group of more than 50 students at this private Catholic college were frustrated and disappointed — eight hours and nothing.

They stopped. They prayed.

“We took a minute to channel our ancestors, take a few breaths and get into prayer circles,” she explained Wednesday. “And then it was back to business.”

Compassion and nuance are essential in life and society, of course, but sometimes it’s helpful to step back and describe things simply and in stark terms.  Here we have students in the office of the priest-president of a Roman Catholic college conducting a pagan prayer as part of their action to change the character of the college, notably in the area of its teachings on Western Civilization.

Stating the situation in this way doesn’t suggest any particular action, but the reality ought to be considered in the response.  What is essential in the college’s Catholic identity?  What might it mean for such a college to capitulate on points of culture?  And Christians also have to ask: Is there something spiritual in the mix that ought to be considered?

The first question is especially important.  All controversies should come back to a clearly articulated reason for the Catholic Church’s being in the college business in the first place.  It shouldn’t be possible for somebody like me, a Catholic who ponders these things more than the average person, not to know the answer.

Without such clarity, the college — let alone the Catholic community — risks grave error, particularly when the movement seeking to change the school is spreading stickers with such peremptory messages as “Justice… or Else!”  Or else what?  And what do they mean by “justice”?  If those whose school and culture are being targeted don’t have definitions of their own, then they’re in no position to resist, much less to educate.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    All controversies should come back to a clearly articulated reason for the Catholic Church’s being in the college business in the first place.

    What could be clearer: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” – Francis Xavier. College is a natural extension of Jesuit philosophy.

    I have no difficulty with a religious college. But, they are private institutions and you know what you are getting. If you don’t like it, vote with your feet. I don’t mean stamping them.

  • ShannonEntropy


    Why have American Catholic Colleges succumbed to the poison of the “Politically Correct” in spite of what the Church teaches ??

    • Rhett Hardwick

      I wonder if the solidarity of the Catholic church is what it once was. I recently watched reruns of Mad Men, in which Catholicism is prominent. Set in the 60’s, there are Latin masses, genuflections, confessions, women with rags on their heads, etc. Isn’t all this gone? I understand the Catholics began discouraging confession, priest’s time was being taken up by the elderly confessing by rote the same sins they had been confessing as children. When one hears of Mother Teresa refusing pain killers because pain “brought people closer to God”, one wonders if the “elites” have lost touch with the communicants. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Mother_Teresa