The senior staff of ACCU, The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and the staff of The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas coordinated their 11th Rome seminar from 14 – 18 June. This year’s theme was Strengthening Catholic Identity for a New Generation.
The delegation met with officials at various dicasteries of the Holy See to discuss best practices for promoting Catholic identity at their universities, how to carry forth the charisms of religious orders as more lay people are taking leadership roles at these institutions, and how to help students understand the social teaching of the Church. A highlight of the program was the celebration of the Eucharist at St Peter’s, with Archbishop Arthur Roche presiding. The group also had a reflection day in Subiaco, and they participated in the General Audience with Pope Francis.
“For the past eleven years, we’ve had the great fortune to collaborate with ACCU, which brings together university administrators, scholars, trustees, and members of various religious orders in Rome. During their time here, they explore the intellectual, cultural, and social role of the Catholic Church globally, and how its presence in the world is realized through Catholic institutions of higher learning, specifically in North America,” said Dr Donna Orsuto, director of The Lay Centre.
The Lay Centre provides ACCU members opportunities to explore the essential elements of Catholic history and culture here in Rome, the city that is intrinsically linked to Catholicism. The seminar also offers rich discourse on topics that speak to the Catholic mission of justice and peace.
In one such session, the Undersecretary at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Dr Flaminia Giovanelli, reflected on the important work of that council, and Advocacy Officer at Caritas Internationalis, Dr Olga Zhyvytsya, discussed the need to raise awareness among students about escalating instances of human trafficking.
Catholic identity, charisms, and mission were the overarching themes of dialogues with Rev Hank Lemoncelli, OMI (Official of CICLSAL), Rev Jonathan DeFelice, OSB (President Emeritus, Saint Anselm College), Dr Donna Carroll (President of Dominican University), and Rev Friedrich Bechina, FSO (Undersecretary, Congregation for Catholic Education). Discussions on the future role of religious congregations in the Catholic university system and broader topics dealing with difficult issues that pose challenges on Catholic campuses were a good case in point.
“As well as stimulating minds, we always make it a point to offer the ACCU community time to nourish the soul,” Dr Orsuto added. “We spent a day at Subiaco where we were reminded of the importance of quiet reflection,” she said. “This was one of those small moments that allows us to look inward and re-establish who we are and the role we play in the larger scheme of the world.”
“Ecumenism and Interreligious dialogue play an important role in the culture of The Lay Centre,” Dr Orsuto stressed. “My colleagues, Rev Felix Körner, SJ (Professor of Theology, Pontifical Gregorian University) and Dr Teresa Francesca Rossi (Professor, Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas and Associate Director, Centro Pro Unione) addressed the most advantageous ways in which we can encourage ecumenism and interreligious dialogue within a Catholic framework.”
Dr Orsuto and ACCU President and CEO, Dr Michael Galligan-Stierle, wrapped up the seminar with a discussion on “Blessed John Henry Newman and Catholic Higher Education.” After describing Newman’s experience as a University President (a bit of a fiasco) and his understanding of a university as an inspiring vision that emphasizes, especially, the influence that teachers can have on students (“An academical system without the personal influence of teachers upon pupils, is an arctic winter; it will create an ice-bound, petrified, cast-iron University, and nothing else.”), Orsuto left the participants with three questions to ponder: what is the goal of a university education? What is its characteristic activity? And what is the main challenge facing Catholic higher education today?