ACCU Plenary 2006

Image: President's Office


FEBRUARY 5, 2006

Each of us here is associated with a higher education institution that calls itself Catholic. That means that our colleges and universities have some very basic and important things in common. For example, they are places where the encounter of faith and reason are taken seriously. They are places with an unconditional commitment to the truth. And they are places at which the transcendent nature of the human person is recognized and treasured. But our schools also differ markedly in a variety of ways. We differ even in how we evidence our Catholicity. Some schools have a largely Catholic student population. Others have a small minority of Catholic students. Some schools live their Catholic mission primarily through educating the poor and underserved segments of our population and have many first generation students. Others schools, like my own, have a long history and have educated multiple generations of some families.

I am at Saint Mary's College just north of South Bend, Indiana. Everyone on our campus routinely describes our college as a Catholic, residential, women's college in the liberal arts tradition. What does it mean for Saint Mary's to be a Catholic college in 2006? What it meant in the 19th century and even for the first two-thirds of the 20th century, may be quite different from what it means today.

The historical question is interesting precisely because it is highly unlikely that the question was much discussed even 25 years ago. In fact, it is only in the last 15 years that the question "What does it mean to be a Catholic college?" has even become a frequent topic of discussion.

Those of you, like me, who are Catholic and who did some significant living in pre-Vatican II years, experienced what sociologists and historians call a thick Catholic culture. Catholicism was not just a religious affiliation; it was a social world of church, school, and religious organizations - organizations that were both spiritual in nature (like the Sodality or Legion of Mary, or Holy Name Society) and social. It was a world of Catholic magazines and newspapers, Catholic neighborhoods, and Catholic friends. For some years of my early life, the Catholic families on our block gathered once a week in a different home each week to pray the rosary. I remember being with that group the night the Cuban Missile Crisis was publicly revealed. When faced with difficulties in my childhood my mother's most likely response was to "offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory." If we were to describe such a world to today's students, they would look at us as if were describing life on Mars.

For most of Saint Mary's history American Catholicism was such a distinct and pervasive subculture that it would have seemed strange to ask what was Catholic about Saint Mary's – the obvious answer would have been everything. The College was administered by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Sisters taught a majority of the courses. The students were overwhelmingly Catholic and so was the culture of the place.

As we all know, in the last quarter century a number of things have changed. American Catholics have become integrated into mainstream American culture - an integration that was significantly aided by Catholic colleges and universities. The all encompassing Catholic subculture of my youth has virtually disappeared. Intellectually talented young Catholic women are as likely to be at Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Duke, or Berkeley, as at a Catholic college or university. The young women who do choose to attend a Catholic higher education institution are increasingly less likely to have more than a glancing familiarity with the richness of the Catholic intellectual traditions. Now, the question "What makes a college Catholic?" is a real and important one. And the question for each of us is how does our college or university live out its Catholic identity?

Unfortunately, discussion of those questions at this time is made difficult by a polarization. At one end of the spectrum are Catholic schools which seem to declare that true Catholic identity is evidenced only if doctrinal orthodoxy is accompanied by social and cultural conservatism and a sort of pre-Vatican II piety. At the other end are schools where meaningful affirmation of Catholic identity is tepid at best - those schools having taken as their sole models the revered secular universities and liberal arts colleges. Peter Steinfels, in his book, A People Adrift 1, posits that such timidity about Catholic identity has its roots in fear of losing, or never attaining, an excellent academic reputation, as well as in a more amorphous fear of a return to the culture of the Inquisition. This polarization instills a fear - a fear of the loss of the virtuous middle ground.

In her wonderful article, "What Makes our Colleges Catholic?" 2 Monika Hellwig identifies, from Ex Corde Ecclesiae 3, four essential characteristics for all Catholic universities or colleges:

1. A Christian inspiration not only of individuals but also of the university community.

2. A continuing reflection in the light of Christian faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research.

3. Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.
4. An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal that gives meaning to life.

And who is going to do all of that? In short, who is going to make certain that our colleges are doing what they were founded to do?

The college faculty, administrators, and staff - working with our students - need to be attentive to these fundamental tasks, or at least a sufficient number of them need to be. As institutions of higher education, the faculty is an important component, and perhaps THE most important component, of our success or failure in faithfulness to our distinctive mission. For most of the history of Catholic universities, the priests, brothers, or sisters of the founding congregations were the faculty and administration. It is not just the disintegration of the distinctive Catholic subculture that has brought focus to the question of how we maintain the Catholicity of our institutions. The declining numbers of priests, brothers, and sisters have resulted in the faculty of our institutions becoming all, or nearly, all lay people - lay people who now must own the mission in ways not previously required of us. The hiring and mentoring of faculty have become crucial to our mission centered-ness. If we are not attentive at the time of hiring to whether those we hire are supportive of the college's mission, it will be impossible to carry out our colleges' missions.

My task today is to talk about strategies for recruiting and mentoring faculty. As I begin let me say a word about the phrase "hiring for mission." That has become the stock phrase that is used to refer to hiring persons because of the contributions they can make to the specifically religious mission of our schools. That phrase irritates me for a couple of reasons. First, it reduces our "mission" to a single dimension - a very important one, but a single one nonetheless. Our missions are multi-dimensional and not so divisible or separable. Our mission is not solely to be a place where Catholics gather, pray, and nurture their Catholicity. Nor is our mission solely to pass on the great Catholic theological and philosophical knowledge accumulated over the centuries. We are a Church that exists not to serve itself, but to serve the people of God, people who live not in isolation but in the world of the 21st century. As the opening words of Gaudium et Spes say (and I have altered the gender exclusivity of the 1960s language):

"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of people. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every one. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with humankind and its history by the deepest of bonds." 4

If the education we offer is to be genuine, it must be fully integrated with and engaged with the knowledge and issues of the 21st century. Our mission is not reducible to any one dimension. Second, when we speak of hiring or mentoring for mission, it sounds as if we are reducing the people we hire to instrumentalities; it sounds as if we are hiring them simply to use them to accomplish our purposes. And, of course, we are hiring an employee with all that that means. But as a Christian community, we should not see any members of our community as a mere means to an end. As Christians, we have obligations to assist them in their own personal flourishing.

Another thing I want to say is that recruiting and mentoring all of our employees is done in a myriad of ways that we do not formally label as such. Religious symbols on the campus send a message to all who walk the grounds and the hallways. If communal worship and prayer are part of the way the college community celebrates events like the opening of the academic year or milestones in the college's history, and if a public turning to God is the natural response in times of crisis, some self selection will occur among those who seek to join the community. Those behaviors certainly provide some on-going teaching for those who do choose to join the college. Indeed, the ethos of the campus may communicate more strongly than any words ever can, what the commitments of the community are. I realize that I am at a campus where the vast majority of our students are Catholic and so are a significant number of our faculty members and that may not be true of your campuses. I also realize that when Catholicism is a very evident part of the campus culture, we must be attentive to making certain that those of other faith traditions, or of none at all, do not perceive themselves as peripheral to the enterprise or as second class citizens. But, we must be attentive to the ethos of our campuses and our Catholicism should be evidenced in that ethos.

But what of the formal recruiting of faculty? I will start with the premise that as a Catholic college or university our goal is to recruit and form a faculty that will embrace and maintain our mission.

That presupposes a known and articulated mission. I believe that the opposition to having a mission statement has mostly dissipated. That opposition, at least in my experience, was born of an aversion to the corporate mentality that many in the academy associate with mission statements. But with the focus that regional accreditation bodies now place on mission, each of your schools probably has a mission statement. Is it embraced by your faculty? Does it say what is important? Is it quoted at any time other than in opposition to some change proposed by the administration? If you don't have strong buy-in to your mission statement, how long has it been since it was reviewed? If your mission is not clearly articulated and embraced by some significant portion of the faculty currently at the college, recruiting faculty who are attracted to and will be supportive of the college's mission will be a hit and miss enterprise, at best.

Assuming that the college's mission is known and embraced, what recruiting practices can assist in drawing a pool of candidates who would truly like to be part of bringing that mission to life. It all begins with an advertisement. Do your ads contain a clear strong statement of mission? I must admit that I recently reviewed an ad that we placed for our academic vice president's position and found it a bit wimpy. The first sentence did identify us as a "Catholic, women's, residential college in the liberal arts tradition." It then continues with the usual information about the position and in the second paragraph said that the person "must possess an appreciation for the Catholic tradition." Another ad for an academic vice president at a Jesuit University that appeared about the same time said, "The University is proud of its mission in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition and spirit, and the successful candidate must be able to support this mission enthusiastically through his or her work in the University." I don't know whether that school is as forceful when it advertises its regular faculty positions (rather than the vice president position that was advertised), and I am not certain whether it should be, but some indication of your expectations should be there. At Saint Mary's we have a mission booklet, with our mission statement and some other illuminating documents; that booklet is sent to all applicants. But what we evidence or body forth at the time of the on campus interview is far more important than any printed materials can ever be.

In addition to the usual departmental interviews, both our Vice President/Dean of Faculty and I interview faculty candidates. The Dean is quite clear that if he hears a candidate state "the fact that Saint Mary's is a Catholic College won't bother me," he considers that not a satisfactory response. Nor is it adequate that a candidate can support the social justice component of Catholicism. What he looks for is faculty who see students as persons with the capacity for a spiritual life, as people with a faith dimension in all that they do. Because I know that who we hire as faculty is critical to what the College will become, I interview every candidate for a full time position. This is not because I do not trust the Dean or the department chairs, but because of the importance I personally place on getting the right people in the right place. Because we are a small school and do not hire many new faculty in any given year this is possible. During my interview with the candidate I say something along the lines of the second and stronger advertisement that I quoted. I tell candidates that we are quite explicitly Catholic and that we are proud of it. I ask what they will contribute to the College. I am not waiting for a candidate to say she is Catholic; I am not looking for a profession of orthodoxy, but I am trying to discern the character of the person and the attitude toward our multifaceted mission. A candidate who has no knowledge of Catholicism but who is intrigued by what we are doing is more attractive to me than one who is indifferent. I have not yet been opposed to any hire that a department has wanted to make and if it came to that I would probably meet with the department to have a discussion. I am not so naïve as to not realize that that discussion would prove to be the beginning of the end of whatever time I might have left on my presidential honeymoon.

I will now discuss mentoring. Mentoring has its informal as well as its formal aspects; and its goals are not just the development of the individual being mentored, but also the development of the community of which that individual is a part.

Remember the first of the four elements of a Catholic college as Monika described them? A Catholic university must have "A Christian inspiration not only of individuals but also of the university community." The fact that we need to be concerned not just with the development of each individual faculty member, but also with the development of a community is not unusual. Really, all healthy organizations work to develop not just the individuals but also to develop a team and to develop collaborative habits that make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. The fact that as Catholic institutions we typically are quite explicit about the value of the college community probably makes that part of our task easier than in other contexts. Also, if the college community truly possesses a Christian inspiration, it will be lived by the community and communicated through the living to all members of the community. Certainly the university leadership needs to articulate the university's specifically Christian inspiration on a regular basis so that there is no mistake about the motivational underpinnings. And while hopefully many members of the community will share that motivation, others, while supportive of the university's modus operandi, may have entirely different reasons for finding it attractive.

Formal mentoring of new faculty begins in my view with faculty orientation. At Saint Mary's we have a day-long orientation organized by the Faculty Assembly. I am allotted time to speak during that day and I have given a talk about the history of the College, focusing on the founding congregation. Our college is located adjacent to the grounds of the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and we have a Vice President for Mission. Our Vice President for Mission is a Sister of the Holy Cross and a graduate of Saint Mary's. Sometime during the first month of the new academic year, the Vice President for Mission takes each new faculty member to lunch, gives them a copy of the mission booklet, and takes them to the Congregation's Heritage Room to further explore the history of the Congregation. Unfortunately, we do not have an abundance of sisters on our faculty or staff. In fact, there are only two sisters teaching at the present time, with another three in our administration. But being located on the same grounds as the motherhouse does provide an opportunity for our students and staff alike to interact with the sisters and learn directly from them.

As an aside - being at a college sponsored by a women's congregation that, like most women's congregations, is growing primarily in the developing world and whose numbers are declining sharply in North America - I perceive a challenge that did not exist when there were more professed religious among the faculty and administration of the College. That challenge may not be as evident on campuses where there are still significant numbers of vowed religious. In general, the religious commitment of the sisters was not questioned. Their vows and their habits spoke for them. But, it would have been a mistake to believe that the sisters were uniform in their outlook. Many, but not all, were quite progressive. They were extremely well educated and trained in their disciplines, but did not necessarily have extensive theological training. Spiritual formation, yes, but theological training, not always. A predominantly lay faculty has a lot more to prove, especially to our most conservative constituents. I worry that if we pay too much attention to the need to prove our Catholicity, we will end up with a uniformity that is not healthy for an academic community. On the other hand, to ignore that need may result in ignoring what is at the heart of our mission. Again, I hope that we will find a way to live in the virtuous middle.

Back to mentoring - at Saint Mary's we have a year-long formal mentoring program for new faculty. In fact, I am proud to say we place such importance on the program that it is endowed. The program, which has been in existence since the mid-1980s, initiates new full time faculty into the life of Saint Mary's College. There are two directors of the program (who receive a small stipend) and each new faculty member is paired with an experienced faculty member from another discipline. Mentors are chosen by the directors for their teaching excellence, scholarship, and institutional experience. A mentor from outside the faculty member's own department is used to emphasize the interdisciplinary connections possible at a small liberal arts college, as well as to permit the sort of inquiry that may be uncomfortable with a person who might one day sit in judgment of the new faculty member's tenure worthiness. In addition to the one-on-one counseling, there are several group activities attended by the mentors and the new faculty members. The program is designed to acquaint the novice with Saint Mary's; to inculcate a sense of responsibility for the community in which students and teachers are bound together; and to understand the special nature of Saint Mary's as a women's college, a Catholic college, and a liberal arts college.

An unexpected outcome of the program is that the mentors become more deeply engaged in the College and its mission and renew their potential for active leadership. After serving as mentors, they can more clearly articulate the mission of the College. The novice faculty see that Saint Mary's is more than a job - it is a rich community of learning. After the first year, the new faculty members graduate from the mentoring program to their own self-directed and self-titled group, "the young and the restless." The amount of time and discussion devoted specifically to the religious dimensions of the College's life varies from year to year depending greatly upon the mix of mentors and mentees. But all who have been involved with the program are committed to it and find it valuable.

On our campus there are additional opportunities for faculty formation. For example, this spring we are offering two short programs for administrative staff and faculty entitled LIVING FAITH: an Adult Faith Renewal Program. The program will focus on Catholicism - but will be ecumenical as well. Each group will meet for four one-hour sessions. Each group will be limited to 20 persons. (We have had an early morning staff program that has been running for three years.) Faculty formation can also come through work on campus committees. We have a Mission Committee, chaired by the Vice President for Mission. We have a Religious Symbolism Committee. The various faculty members who serve on these committees have the opportunity to think through the implications of various initiatives for the College and for their own lives.

What is important is the mission of the College is seen as a living thing and a collaborative effort. We are not afraid to talk about it or to examine whether we are living it.

Before I conclude, I need to give special thanks to the Sisters of Holy Cross who have made special efforts to help me in the daunting task of carrying on their legacy. Although the sisters have not lost hope that there may yet be a resurgence of vocations in the United States, they know that many, if not all of their North American ministries are likely to be led by lay women and men and they have embraced us and our efforts. For many years there has been an annual gathering of Holy Cross priests, brothers, and sisters from around the world in Le Mans, France, the place of the founding of Holy Cross by Father Moreau. For two weeks, the group learns about the history of the congregations, pilgrimages to the places that are sacred to Holy Cross, and prays together and learns together. Three years ago that international session was opened to lay participants. The sisters invited me and my husband to participate last summer. It was an amazing experience. I have been educated by Holy Cross both as an undergraduate and a professional student. I have worked at Holy Cross higher educational institutions for more than 25 years. Especially in the last decade, I have felt closer and closer to Holy Cross, but always outside the circle, even if closer and closer to the perimeter. This last summer I felt invited into the circle. That is what all of us need to do. Invite our colleagues into the wonderful gift that is our ministry and find a way to make that invitation real and meaningful.

In preparing these remarks, one of the things that has troubled me is making this all sound too simple and not sufficiently nuanced. Recruiting and continuing to form faculty is very important business but it is very tricky business. The Holy Cross colleges and universities held a conference at the University of Portland last summer; the conference was entitled Living the Mission. Father David Tyson, CSC, Provincial Superior of Indiana Province of the Priests of Holy Cross and former President of the University of Portland, said, "The hiring challenge will be the most daunting and urgent challenge that Holy Cross institutions of higher education will face in the next two decades."5 I agree with him, but perhaps the reasons I find it daunting are not what you would expect. Earlier in my remarks I spoke of the virtuous middle. That is where I believe Saint Mary's College belongs. Being explicit about being a place that honors faith and reason (and indeed finds them compatible); being explicit about being a place where one struggles to see the discoveries of modern science with eyes of faith is probably necessary so that we do not develop missional amnesia. But does it mean that we will attract only those who find that comfortable? If so, do we risk being too complacent about issues with which we should really struggle? Will the faculty member who would be the friendly questioner and intellectual prod take a position elsewhere? How does all of this affect our efforts to bring greater racial and ethnic diversity to our faculties?

What we are talking about doing is not easy or reducible to matrices or quotas. Steinfels concludes his chapter on the Catholic identity of Catholic institutions with a quote from Monika Hellwig which is not only perceptive but stunningly challenging. With regard to Catholic higher education, Hellwig said that discerning a Catholic identity "is not a matter of something we have lost and must retrieve. It is a matter of discovering how to do something we have never done before."6 I must admit that it is frightening and exciting all at once, but there is no other type of challenge I would rather take on. It is a worthy one indeed. Thank you.

President Carol Ann Mooney
February 5, 2006

1 Steinfels, Peter. A People Adrift, The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2003.
2 Hellwig, Monika. "What Makes our Colleges Catholic?" Mission and Identity, A Handbook for Trustees of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Washington, D.C. AGB, 2003
3 Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities Ex Corde Ecclesiae, August 15, 1990
4 Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World ,Gaudium et Spes, 1965
5 Tyson, David, CSC. Living the Mission, Excerpt from the Student Life Conference at the University of Portland. 7.
6 Steinfels, Peter. A People Adrift, The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2003. 161