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As Catholics schools jettison truth, they succumb to progressive ideology

As my teenage daughter and I toured college campuses, we saw that “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” appeared to be the de facto religion not just at the public schools, but at the Catholic schools as well.

A portion of the main campus of the University of Mary, in North Dakota, seen from the east, overlooking the Missouri River valley. (Image: Jerry Anderson/Wikipedia)

Last fall, my daughter was starting her senior year of high school, looking forward to making all the memories that would mark the end of this chapter in her life. But life took an unexpected turn for the Class of 2020. Sports, concerts, prom and even graduation itself, all got cancelled. They missed a lot. Sadly, that’s what they’ll always remember. And just as the pandemic was hitting full swing this spring, my daughter and her classmates had decisions to make — colleges and universities were sending out their acceptance letters and commitment deadlines were fast approaching.

My daughter had applied to several in-state public schools and a handful of smaller private Catholic schools. Over the last couple years we had visited at least 25 schools, gone on many campus tours, sat through numerous information sessions. As it turns out, going through the college admissions process is an eye-opening education into the world of higher education.

What we noticed while touring (even before 2020 struck), was that “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” appeared to be the de facto religion not just at the public schools, but at the Catholic schools as well. At most of the Catholic schools, “statements on inclusion” were touted, while theology classes and campus ministry programs were barely mentioned.

One Catholic school’s admissions application form was particularly “inclusive”. On page one of the form, just under the spaces allotted for student name, was the gender question — in this case a drop-down list of ten gender options from which to choose. The alphabetized list began with “Agender” and ended with “Queer”. “Man” and “Woman” were simply options on the list.

The question made me wonder if some of the Catholic schools were really, in the end, any different from the progressive, ideologically-driven public schools that we had toured. Perhaps these days “Catholic school” actually means, in most cases, “Catholic in name only.”

Catholic schools have been chasing left-leaning students for years. While touring schools with my daughter, I noticed that student activist and identity-group organizations seemed to be cowing administrators on a plethora of issues — listing gender on name tags, course offerings and even their content, and affinity-group housing and services. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was an adult in the room. Who was teaching? What were students really learning? And to what end?

As Catholic schools drift into secular ideology, they are increasingly struggling to communicate their value proposition vis-à-vis public schools. Most Catholic schools are part of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), which serves as the collective voice of U.S. Catholic higher education.

At the ACCU’s last annual meeting which took place this past winter in Washington D.C., sessions were held on such topics as “How Catholic Higher Education Must Adapt to Continue Its Mission”, “Adapting to the Shifting Nature of Learners”, and “Finding Fiscal Stability in Today’s Environment.” This last session touched on the existential question for today’s Catholic schools: “For Catholic colleges and universities, being ‘Catholic’ may no longer hold as much appeal for students looking to enroll. What can Catholic higher education do to reverse the financial distress that threatens its survival and mission?”

Perhaps the answer to this question can best be found in one of the meeting’s only bright spots, a session on “How Identifying the Barriers to Enrollment Growth Delivered Record-Breaking Numbers.” The University of Mary, in Bismarck, North Dakota was profiled as the success story in this talk. Despite its small size — about three thousand students — and its remote location, the school is thriving.

I knew a bit about this school on a personal level. Last year I had attended my Catholic parish’s annual women’s retreat, and my roommate that weekend was a faith-filled, orthodox Catholic woman, a University of Mary alumni. I knew the school truly embraced its Catholic identity, rather than apologized for it. Its community center is called “Chesterton’s” and the school is recommended in the Cardinal Newman Society’s “Newman Guide”.

Only 26 of the ACCU’s 197 U.S. Catholic colleges and universities made it onto the Newman Guide’s recommended list this year. These colleges all teach theology, ethics, and reasoning. They all have strict rules governing campus life. They all have vibrant campus ministry and a strong Catholic culture. Rather than embrace society’s prevalent culture, these schools are truly counter-cultural.

I return now to my earlier discussion of the gender question on my daughter’s admissions application form. (The school is an ACCU member, but not included in the Newman Guide.) As luck, or perhaps providence, would have it, I had met the vice president of the school — a Catholic Holy Cross order priest — at a seminarian benefit dinner just a week before reviewing my daughter’s application.

I sent the priest a gentle email reminding him of our delightful conversation that evening and included my feedback on my daughter’s application process at his school. I mentioned that I had read the school’s “statement on inclusion” but I had some concerns from the standpoint of adherence to Catholic teaching on human dignity.

I addressed several related concerns in my email. “I’m not convinced that asking each kid to identify their sexuality from such a long list of choices with ‘male’ and ‘female’ being just options down the middle of the page is the most helpful way to be ‘inclusive’ for each kid applying or even for the school’s community as a whole. … In our city’s public schools now, kids as young as kindergarten are being taught that they need to choose their gender and explore their options, and we don’t quite know the physical, emotional and spiritual impact of this attitude and influence.”

The priest replied to my email almost immediately. He admitted that the school’s tack was “progressive” but that “today things are much more open than ever before” and that the school was “balancing inclusion and faithfulness.” In his email signature he identified his pronouns — “he, him, his.” But he was friendly and open and invited me to the school, to attend Mass with him, have lunch with him, and to discuss the issue further.

I did visit with the priest. Mass was lovely, lunch was delicious, and the conversation was enlightening. He shared from his 20 years experience working with college students. I shared my (almost) 20 years experience raising kids. And I shared my worries. I left feeling like the conversation had been productive. And it was — the priest notified me that the “admissions task force” had reviewed the application format and decided to change the application back to a more streamlined question. Accessing the application today, there are only two options for sex: male and female. With a question below stating “if you would like the opportunity, we invite you to share more about your gender identity.”

Why do I share this simple story — a story with a decidedly satisfying ending — about a school admissions application form? Because I believe the application itself speaks to a bigger problem that has infected many Catholic colleges and universities, and in fact almost all liberal institutions throughout the U.S. today. It isn’t just progressive gender language on an application. Or any one of the various progressive worldviews that many of these Catholic universities immerse themselves in — postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the like. But it’s the combination, and the intensity of these viewpoints, that need to be challenged, questioned, and countered with the foundational principles of our Catholic institutions — truth.

St. Augustine may not have said that truth was like a lion that can defend itself. But, of course, truth often does need defending. So we need to wake up and speak out. The endgame to progressive ideologies is to destroy. And we’ve already seen signs of destruction as ideologies have moved into the streets. This university was itself the victim of vandalism during this summer’s civil unrest. Statues on campus were damaged by rioters. Sadly, the school’s response was to simply remove the statues — in effect, to cancel itself.

But self-cancelling contributes to social tyranny and a sense of hopelessness, the opposite of the dignity and liberty God wants for us. “American liberalism is under siege. There is a new ideology vying to replace it,” wrote Bari Weiss in an October 14 essay for Tablet:

The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game — due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself — must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with — designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.

If it’s a war, people of faith will need to put on the armor of God and speak out against this new creed. Parents paying the bills and alumni giving the grants need to protect the institutions they love. We cannot simply wait for the school’s administrators to self-correct. Because they themselves are now the problem. As Ms. Weiss implored, we no longer have the luxury of asking “Can you believe?” “We should never be shocked that any ideology that makes war on…true and eternal values,” — our Judeo-Christian values — “will inevitably make war on us.”

On a personal note, I’m happy to report that my daughter is now a freshman at a Newman-approved college, and flourishing. I am grateful that she is being protected from 2020 in a bubble at a school where the true, the good, and the beautiful are embraced. I want that gift for more college students. But that can only happen if we start to wake up and speak out.


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About Mary Miller 2 Articles
Mary Miller Mary Miller is an advocate for faith, families, and education. She consults for several education-related nonprofit organizations in the Portland, Oregon metro area and holds two business degrees from UCLA. Her three children attend Catholic schools.

32 Comments

  1. Don’t give these schools your money. They can earn it when they can prove they are soundly teaching the faith.

    Seriously, what parent has the time or energy to chase down every erroneous issue at these schools? It would be a full-time job. Send your children to schools with a proven track-record of upholding the faith.

  2. I’m curious why, after your intensive and diligent legwork investigating twenty-five potential colleges for your daughter you did not mention specifically what colleges you found wanting from a conscientious parent’s view. For example, if what you write was factually true (which I have no doubt about), why not give the name of the college whose application originally gave numerous choices for gender?

    If you identified a rabid animal loose in your neighborhood, would you not be specific with your neighbors about where you sighted it? If we Catholics don’t band together for protection by sharing information about immanent dangers to our families, we only serve to place those we love at greater risk.

    • True, but unless she intended to do a full evaluation of all Catholic schools, mentioning only a couple might detract from the general point. She mentioned the Newman rating which gives people a good source for finding an authentic Catholic college.

  3. Hello, having a multiple choice ti identity one self can perhaps allows the applicant to truly accept who they really are and and affirm it when filling the form. After all we are all made, born in the image of God. God knows, knew our life choices while we grew in the our mother’s womb, so the church has for hundreds of years since inception put down denied the role of ministry to woman they have the calling. We must remember Jesus said let them all be one, what Jesus said could be taken to mean several things we the church has assumed what Jesus said implied all join the Catholic Church, remember Jesus said as the heavens are above he earth so my ways and thoughts are above yours.when we read the bible stories we sometimes miss the message even those early church fathers miss understood things and that’s when the teachings of the church went wrong from love and compassion to hell fire brimstone.

    • Hum, Robert, I think you are wandering from the natural law. The Church cannot contradict the nature of conception, which comes from the union of male and female ONLY. It is a distortion of science, indeed unscientific, to pretend to more than two sexes in humanity and one would think the fact of biology would deter anyone from trying to claim against biology. It is not the Church who is in error when defending this truth and the truth of marriage, which is NOT inclusive. Humans are highly peculiar in wishing to act against the nature of our species – reproduction and continuation of the species by any other means than a male and female union is impossible and should not be separated from love and the need for a male and female parent to bring up the child together.

  4. You could see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears.The Marxist train picking up speed and roaring down the tracks in the Spring of 2009 as Obama/Biden demanded Notre Dame & Georgetown remove all of our Catholic Faiths Icons,Sculptures,& Art be removed or covered up by these Universities before the so called “One We’ve Been Waiting For”would come and pontificate at these Universities of “higher” learning.Of course the Presidents of ND & GT were more then happy to comply! Followed by the clapping of the Bishops & Jesuits hands in raptured agreement.

    • You can thank Fr. Ted Hesburgh for derailing Notre Dame, and really Catholic higher education in general for the most part. Only Card. Bernardin probably did more damage to the American Catholic Church in the 20th century.

  5. A Catholic education is not for everyone, even those who purport to be Catholic.

    If you water down the brand you end up competing with everyone; we only need to impress those who want a Catholic education. It would make the PP’s jobs much easier. If there are fewer students, so be it.

  6. Mary Miller – Welcome to reality (Truth). Catholic, and Faith schools in general, are shrinking and dying.
    You sound like you want to be the last to go. Donald Duck and Santa Claus have a certain connection
    with reality also. You appear to decide what you want to believe, via faith, then declare it is truth.
    What a delusion!

    • Mr Maus, I live on another continent from Mrs Miller’s but recognise readily the issues affecting Catholic schooling and families that her article articulates so clearly.
      From your extraordinarily uninformed remarks, pray tell, sir, what planet is it that you inhabit?

    • Mr. Maus, it appears from your comments that you decide what you want to believe, via ideology (scientism, maybe?), then declare it is truth. That is the real delusion.

  7. Root Causes:
    1. Lack of sound and thorough catechesis and faith formation in the Church and the colleges the teachers and administrators attended.
    2. Lack of accountability for teachers and administrators to adhere to the foundations of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Magisterium.
    3. Lack of personal and intimate relationship with Christ Jesus and commitment to IMITATE HIM.
    4. Lack of marriages and families being founded on Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Magisterium.
    5. Lack of putting Christ first, and being passionate about His kingdom, resulting in cold and lukewarm “Christians” who can remember more lines from secular TV shows and movies than Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    See anything in common here?

  8. And now you know why…
    The most common religious identity among young adults in the U.S. is “none,” and the majority of Americans don’t believe it’s necessary for a person to believe in God to be moral and have good values, a new survey has found.

  9. We read: “St. Augustine may not have said that truth was like a lion that can defend itself,” but he did warn against falsehood: “fastastica fornicatio,” the willingness of the human mind to prostitute itself to its own fantasies (as by hooking up with gender theory).

    As for gender theory and pseudo-Catholic schools, Chesterton alerts us: “Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.” Also, “Man has always lost his way; but now he has lost his address.”

  10. My son is currently attending a Catholic university that I will also not disclose by name, and yes, unfortunately, not all large Catholic universities have the opportunity to only hire fellow Catholics. Furthermore, often the only thing Catholic about many I so called Catholics I have encountered in life…is their Baptism certificates. But praise be to the Holy Spirit, the true, committed Catholics at my son’s University that we have had the privilege to have engage with have been true blessings not only to my son but to our entire family. So thank you and may continue to bless you Fr. Jenkins, Fisher Hall Rector Mr. Maz, Fr. Miscamble, Lou Nanni, my son’s dinning hall manager, et all at Our Lady for all that you do in Christ’s name, especially during this crazy year of Coronavirus. So thankful, so proud – Go Irish!

  11. Nearly twenty years ago, I tagged along to a small gathering in Seattle where the passing-through-town Fr. Fessio, SJ (the publisher of Ignatius Press) gave a very informal talk. “All you need,” he said, “to start a Catholic school is an empty room with a light bulb in the ceiling.” Of course, he and Founder Thomas S. Monaghan were almost ready to turn the first shovel for AVE MARIA UNIVERSITY in Florida, some 3,000 miles away on the other side of fly-over country.

    This month in a Founders Club brochure, President Christopher P. Ice writes this of the results: “…In a recent survey, more than 90% of responding alumni reported they regularly practice their faith. That’s an incredible statistic and it’s the opposite of a study commissioned by Bishop Robert Barron that found 85% of Catholic students stop practicing their faith during their college years–even those who go to most Catholic colleges…”

    My very modest association with Ave Maria U, other than an embarrassingly small early donation that put me on the mailing list, is that during the school’s summer break (2015?), and while on a family visit, I drove across the state to finally visit the campus. I found myself alone, and at that precise moment, also found myself alone in the chapel. Or nearly alone. In the loft was a soloist practicing her gift with subdued organist accompaniment. For nearly an hour I was transported by an angelic voice who didn’t even suspect my presence below. A gifted memory.

  12. Of course there are those of us who agree with the author but unfortunately can not afford to send our children to the more orthodox schools because of the high cost. We we through this in elementary and high school with my granddaughter and it was a terrible struggle. Aid was not available to those of us not in the right social-economic group. A Catholic college is simply out of the question. The bishops continue to complain about lack of mass attendance, failure to support parishes and basic religious programs but will not look in the mirror and ask the hard questions. I regret to say that the future of truly Catholic education is not bright.

  13. I now understand why this mess in Catholic teaching. I have been reading up at what happened at the Second Vatican Council, a good point of reference is from Rorate Coali Blog. on Fr. Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVl) at the Council. My conclusion is that the Council itself created a new religion. One example is that the Council Fathers rejected the planned Document on the Blessed Virgin Mary. The majority wanted nothing to do with Our Lady. St. Pope Paul Vl then put forth for a vote to proclaim Our Lady as “Mater Ecclesiae”. The Council Fathers overwhelmingly voted against it. But St. Paul Vl proclaimed Our Lady as Mater Ecclesiae against their opposition. They were angry at this. One Council Father at the Council stated, “I hope I die before the Council ends. This way at least I’ll die Catholic”, other Council Fathers stated things at the Council very similar.. What happened at Vll is the reason for all the destruction in our Catholic teaching system. Just read that article I mentioned and you’ll see what I mean. All in this CWR article came because of Vll’s Council Fathers ideas. Its not so much what the actual Vll Documents say but instead the mentality of the majority of the Fathers at the Council who implemented their own rotten ideas after the Council, instead of implementing the Vatican ll Documents themselves. They destroyed our faith in the name of the “Spirit of Vatican ll”.

    • “The majority wanted nothing to do with Our Lady.”

      Lumen Gentium just called and wants its chapter VII and its several dozen references to the Blessed Virgin Mary back…

      • St. Pope John XXlll had some of the most learned Cardinals and Bishops draw up a schemata that was to be a major Document on the BVM for the Council. The Council Fathers voted it out. Archbishop Vigano rightly asks, “By what authority did they do this?”. The article says that the majority of the Council Fathers wanted nothing to do with Our Most Holy Mother. All in the name of Ecumenism. One Council Father said, “Must we sacrifice the truth so as not to offend the Protestants?” I read these things in Rorate Coeli Blog on the article of a new book, the Biography of Pope Benedict XVl. The book is based on interviews with Pope Benedict XVl and His Holiness approved its publication. I’m not making this up. Read the article. The article shocked me, finally the truth about the Council is starting to be made known. Compared to what’s coming out now, the “Rhine flows into the Tiber” is just tidbits of information. I look forward to getting this book as it shows why and what happened to our Catholic schools and other institutions in the name of “the spirit of Vatican ll”. It was a Council of men gone mad by their infiltration with the condemned Modernist heresy into the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

      • I’m among so many others who have waited now these 55 years for a wisdom and conclusion whose understanding of Vatican II seems defined largely by a blog. (Ohmm, ohmm!) As for Vatican II itself, and Mary, perhaps in the admitted turmoil and manipulations of the moment the greater Wisdom simply concluded that Mary should be written directly and inseparably into Lumen Gentium itself (the “Constitution” on the Church), rather than floating around as a lesser-ranked and more dispensable “declaration”. Of this alternative hindsight…not a bad move.

        • I so much wish that the planned schemata on Our Lady would have been followed. But then the liberal Council Fathers were fowling up everything thing else. What would they have done with a Major Document on The Mother of the Church? I think of Christ’s words, “If they do this with the green wood, what will they not do with the dry wood”. Lumen Gentium may say beautiful things about the Queen of Heaven and earth. But the fact remains that after Vll the Modernists did all they could to destroy devotion to our Lady. I taught Catechism in 1980, at one faculty meeting we were instructed not to teach about the BVM, as devotion to her takes away from Christ. I witnessed the Modernist heresies in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Modernism became the norm, traditional Catholicism was outright banned. Strange!!! And then, puzzled, we ask ourselves, “What went wrong with Catholic teaching?”. St. Pius X in 1907 officially condemned Modernism, this condemnation went dormant for over 50 years. To save Catholic teaching we must in union with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary go back to the Council and eradicate it.

  14. This issue of CWR includes favorite reads this past year, and two of mine were Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “My Battle Against Hitler,” preceded by Dr. Paul Kengor’s “Karl Marx and the Devil.” Hildebrand, by the way, did not distinguish the evils of Nazism and Bolshevism, considering them of the same cloth. However, let us be grateful and turn to those efforts and some true Catholic schools that are offering authentic formation for administrators, educators, and students, including the recently reported master’s program led by Father Peter Stravinskas (Pontifex University) and the Catholic Textbook Project in partnership with Catholic Liberal Education (org) to name a couple. Under no circumstances, please, permit your still vulnerable children to be exposed to these soft, complacent, and compliant cooperators with evil. I speak as a former public relations/advertising executive who was in the dark for numerous years and then thirty years as an educator in Catholic, “Catholic,” and public schools. There are viable alternatives, but your sons and daughters would fare better in the trades than trading their souls for a “degree.”

  15. Another option is to find a secular or state school with a really good Newman Center and FOCUS (fellowship of catholic university students) group. My older daughter got involved with these groups at her college, and she learned so much about our Catholic faith! She met a great group of strong Catholics friends, including her husband!

  16. Why on earth do we call the leftist ideology “progressive”? It is, in fact, REGRESSIVE, meaning that we are regressing back to paganism in our pathetic attempt to be “progressive”. These so-called “Catholic” colleges/universities, as well as high schools & elementary schools, need to be called what they are – completely anti-Catholic. It is obvious to even the most casual observer that many “Catholic” institutes of “higher learning” are simply shills for the leftist secular corruption in society today. The “church of nice” has absolutely NOTHING to offer, except the ruin of souls. It is time to go back to the traditional Latin Mass, & offer our suffering to right the wrongs that have been perpetrated in “Catholic education”, & pray that these heretics will open their clouded eyes & change their ways. If we don’t, we will suffer the fate of the worst of these sinners by being silent. Of course, when the “pope” himself encourages heresy, our options may indeed be limited.

    • RM Your comment was excellent. We cannot remain silent anymore, but must proclaim the whole Truth of the matter. The Modernist heresy (REGRESSIVE) has been condemned by St. Pius X. Why has Modernism become the new false religion foretold by Our Lady? We can be the rebuilders of the Church as Our Lady spoke of. We must do as Christ did and set the world ablaze with Sound Doctrine and openly condemning the heresy that destroyed Truth in our Catholic teaching.

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