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Human development and truth a model for successful Catholic institutions

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Australian Catholic universities - The Catholic Weekly
Fr Eamonn Conway and Professor Leonard Franchi. Photo: George Al-Akiki.

In a generation where young people are increasingly “afraid there may be no truth at all,” University of Notre Dame Australia professor Fr Eamonn Conway has stressed Catholic universities cannot “submit to a cold rationalism, which any university can offer,” but rather retain their “distinct and precious” religious roots.

UNDA faculty from members across the country attended the Irish’s priest’s seminar at the school of Philosophy and Theology in Sydney on 6 June alongside Scottish Professor Leonard Franchi, speaking on the role of Catholic education in human development.

“I’m convinced the changes in our culture show we need Catholic education as a response,” Fr Conway said.

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“The pain of contemporary living for young people has them looking for some source of deeper meaning. If we as a generation are not prepared to accompany them in that, we’re going to let them down.

“University education is about the search for truth, but at the same time we as a Catholic institution have this claim of already knowing the fount of truth.

“That distinguishes us—that there’s something about what it is to be a human person we claim to know through the revelation of Christ.”

But Fr Conway said the biggest task facing Catholic universities is holding onto that faith in the current climate.

“I worry our teachers often might be saying they’ll give just the facts, that what goes on in religion is the ‘feeling stuff.’ But actually, we need to hold those two together,” he said.

“Faith is how we deal with the facts. It gives us the why, how to make sense of the world, how we live and respond. A Catholic institution breathes with both those lungs.

“This is the unique contribution we have to make at the moment. We have something else to add [that other institutions don’t]—the ‘why.’”

Fr Conway is a priest of the archdiocese of Tuam, Ireland and the inaugural professor of integral human development at UNDA. Prof Franchi is an academic from the University of Glasgow and a professorial research fellow with UNDA, specialising in Catholic education.

Following Fr Conway, Prof Franchi spoke to how all components of a curriculum are fundamental to the identity of a Catholic school.

“RE curriculum is providing the core of the Catholic schools’ identity. But a core means there’s something around it, and that core has got to be surrounded by a way of thinking, acting and knowing which shows the Catholic mission understands the whole human,” he said.

The professor told The Catholic Weekly the Catholic educational trajectory must examine what it means to be a good human being, developing a virtuous character in students who are then able to transition into their professions.

But there are some practical challenges.

“There are fewer people who seem to want to become teachers,” he said.

“Also, do we give ourselves sufficient space to reflect on the underpinning principles of the education system? How does the Catholic intellectual tradition make a difference? That challenge is one for each generation to face and respond in a way that’s appropriate.”

Part of the answer for this generation is cultural renewal.

“The whole idea of a university experience is not just a transaction of ‘I do the work, you give me the degree.’ It’s an experience of life,” Prof Franchi said.

“The Catholic life is about being a fully alive human being. We want to be involved in all areas of society, meet all sorts of people, because if you want to have a spirit of evangelisation you’ve got to meet others where they are.

“It goes back to the ‘mission.’ The call of the baptised person is to live, to be an apostle.

“The fact there might be students who don’t share the mission doesn’t take away the fact they still come to our institutions.

“There’s an attraction to build on which can take them on the next stage of their journey. It’s about helping each other, staff and students, to climb the plane to virtue.”

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