The President of Notre Dame on the Goals of Catholic Higher Education

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This week’s podcast features John Jenkins, C.S.C., the president of the University of Notre Dame. Father Jenkins recently wrote a cover story for America marking the 50-year anniversary of the Land O’ Lakes Statement, a seminal document on Catholic higher education in the United States.

The document, issued in 1967, has been contested in the years since. “Its critics have said it’s led Catholic universities down the path toward secularization, toward losing a robust Catholic identity,” Father Jenkins told Matt Malone, S.J., Zac Davis and Kerry Weber. “Its most-quoted statement is...about the independence that Catholic universities need from ecclesiastical and external authorities generally. That has been taken as a declaration of independence from the church.”

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Father Jenkins disagrees with those critics, arguing that this oft-quoted statement is taken out of context. When read in its entirety, the document provides a comprehensive “vision of how these institutions will be Catholic, not simply in terms of their trappings, but in terms of an intellectual life that is focused on God and things related to God.”

“Conspicuously absent” from the document, Father Jenkins concedes, is a clear outline of the “relationship of the institution to the church—to its magisterial role.” That relationship is addressed to some extent in the apostolic constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” which emphasizes that “a Catholic university must be...in relationship with the church, in a common purpose to serve the church and the world.”

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