Cardinal Newman Society: College Shows Bishops’ Key Role in Higher Education

What does a bishop have to do with the Catholic colleges in his diocese?

Quite a bit, according to the Cardinal Newman Society — and a key example is Kansas City-Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

“A bishop’s oversight of Catholic education within his diocese — including schools, home schools, and colleges — is indispensable,” the apostolate promoting authentic Catholic higher education reported, adding: “That’s the experience of President Stephen Minnis, who has led an exciting renewal of faithful education and formation over the last two decades at Benedictine College.”

The Newman Society report featured the image seen above of Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Minnis helping lead the March for Life in 2014 and quoted Minnis saying the Archbishop “has always been available to help me as the College faces significant issues, and his advice has been invaluable as we chart the course of the College.”

The Church has always seen universities as partners with the bishop on the frontlines of the Church’s mission, said the Newman Society, reporting:

  • In 1789, Bishop John Carroll established the first institution of Catholic higher education in the United States.
  • In the 19th century, the first two Plenary Councils of Baltimore in the 19th century, the bishops required every parish to start a school, to protect children from “the seeds of error or vice.”
  • In the past 40 years, Church today, the Vatican has focused on higher education in documents stemming from the mandatum in 1983’s Code of Canon Law to The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue (2022)

These documents give bishops a direct role in higher education says the report:

Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution“Ex corde Ecclesiae requires that Catholic college leaders report to their bishops: ‘Every Catholic University, without ceasing to be a University, has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity’ (27). And in The Identity of the Catholic School we read, ‘Indeed, the ‘ecclesial nature of Catholic schools, which is inscribed in the very heart of their identity as schools, is the reason for the institutional link they keep with the Church hierarchy’ (50).

The Church assigns each bishop the responsibility to “promote and assist” in the Catholic identity of schools in his diocese. The Identity of the Catholic School explains how this should happen:

  • A bishop has a duty to visit every school in his diocese “at least every five years, personally,” except in extraordinary circumstances.
  • The bishop can “appoint or at least approve teachers of religion for his diocese,” or be sure that they are removed “if reasons of religion or morals require it … if conditions for his or her appointment are no longer met.”
  • The bishop also has a duty to serve at the college level, including issuing the mandatum for theology professors, whether at Catholic institutions or not, to insure they are teaching in conformity with the magisterium.

President Minnis gives Archbishop Naumann a lot of credit for the strong Catholic identity at Benedictine College.

“His request that we report on our compliance to Ex Corde Ecclesiae gave us a campuswide focus on how that document impacts each aspect of our work that shaped our day to day operations,” Minnis said. “His request in 2021 that we show how we are creating a culture of evangelization on campus did the same thing, clarifying how we live our mission.”

In the past year, Minnis cited how:

  • Archbishop Naumann’s request that Benedictine College focus on marriage and family led to our creation of the enormously successful Center for Family Life on campus, whose work he participates in directly.
  • The Archbishop has continued to be a frequent visitor to campus who is well known to students. He celebrates Mass on various feast days on campus , including Divine Mercy Sunday, at which he annually brings candidates from our RCIA program into the fullness of the faith — 10 in 2023.
  • Archbishop Naumann gives senior theology and philosophy majors a yearly “fireside chat” on topical issues to ensure our newest Catholic leaders will think with the mind of the Church.

“Archbishop Naumann has been a great leader for Benedictine College, both in directing us and in supporting our efforts,” Minnis said.

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.