What We Hold in Trust: Rediscovering the Purpose of Catholic Higher Education

by Don J. Briel, Kenneth E. Goodpaster and Michael J Naughton,

forward by Dennis Holtschneider, CM

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


As a University professor emerita, one can only shout with joy for this salient and thoughtful text written by three men who have for their mission the transformation of their students so that the world will be a holier, more informed group of adults. The authors consider universities a subset of our social engagement. “ A university is a home to educate the next generation in all that has been said before and to encourage its students to knowledgably enter the fray themselves, a place apart to think and wonder about how one’s convictions interact with the questions of the day, a place to learn how to achieve a more just and humane world but also to practice respectful disputation, listening to ways in which one might be wrong, a place where social commitment is tempered by humility.” Vincentian Father Holtschneider, the former president of DePaul University states: “We require philosophy courses hoping they will find lines of thought that bless a lifetime. We require theology courses that sweep aside romantic notions of God for sometimes unsettling realizations that the Judeo-Christian God means it when he takes the side of the poor. At, best, we find the deeply human dimensions of all the subjects we teach.”


The authors place before the students the challenge of how well Catholic universities are doing in sharing this wisdom, this fire. The problem is that so many administrators, faculty and trustees do not know the tradition well enough to pass on the charism and mission. This book will reinforce the concerns of those who are already concerned, while motivating those who should be concerned to seek the resources they need to pass on this precious fire! Don Biel, one of the authors who was the founder of the Catholic Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) passed away early in 2018. This book is filled with his profound words.


Chapter after chapter is filled with gentle but challenging ideas in the area of recruiting, hiring, staying true to the mission of the University, staying true to the Magisterium of the Church and that the hiring and diversity of faculty must be embedded in the mission of the University. The formation and development of the faculty is of utmost importance. The discussion of Catholic mission and identity is encouraged as the faculty becomes embroiled in various kinds of controversy. While controversy is not avoided, the conversation is text-driven rather than issue-driven allowing for a more constructive discussion.

Our Holy Father the Pope, in an address to the Roman Curia, invites its members to a provocative “examination of conscience” where he explained that each person in the Curia who is not nourished with spiritual food “will become a bureaucrat (a formalist, a functionalist, an employee): a shoot that dries up and little by little dies and is thrown away. This is a danger for all leaders, to become more bureaucrats, people who lose sight of the deeper purposes of their institutions and manage them through mechanical procedures and superficial slogans. The authors state: The task of leading Catholic universities requires the virtue of practical wisdom which will be a contemplative mind and heart that can receive what the Lord is calling us to do.” This is a very meaningful and important text for all those involved in higher education. I will pass on the wisdom to others.

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