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A Catholic Alternative to Decadent Colleges


The quality of culture is usually measured in terms of such things as the availability of operas, plays, art galleries, and poetry readings. It is common to associate both culture and civilization with cosmopolitan cities such as London, Paris, and New York, and with famous colleges and universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. However, as Sir Kenneth Clark wrote in Civilisation: A Personal View, civilization "can be created in a monastery or a court just as well as in a city - perhaps rather better."

Civilization can appear in the most obscure, humble, and unlikely of places. More than the availability of art, poetry, music, sports, and scholarship, civilization is a habitual way of life, an environment or atmosphere that cultivates the art of living. It involves a set of actions that reflect manners, formalities, and rituals that uplift human life and bring cheer to the heart and soul. Civilized ways awaken in man a sense of propriety and dignity and an appreciation of the true, the good, the beautiful, and the noble.

While colleges and universities have traditionally been associated with the qualities of civilization, they have to a large degree developed in recent times into decadent, barbaric places promoting immorality. While cultural activities like music, art, theater, poetry, and athletics continue to flourish, giving the illusion of refinement, true civilization has largely deserted the groves of academe.

Fifty percent of education, remarked G.K. Chesterton, is atmosphere. A culture is the soil in which something grows. The atmosphere or environment in higher education does not truly cultivate intellectual life or spiritual formation because the preoccupation with sex, hedonism, and vulgar entertainment attacks the virtues of purity and chastity which are germane to knowledge and wisdom. As an exception to the rule, the alternative Catholic colleges that have been established since the 1970s have created an intellectual environment that does not divorce learning from atmosphere or ignore the true meaning of culture.

One such exception is Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. This college offers the art of Catholic education at its best, the transmission of culture through daily living and through an ambience instilled by prayer and worship as a normal part of life. Before every class, instructors lead their students in a prayer, and every classroom has a crucifix on the wall. Students and faculty who eat the noon meal together in the commons say grace before dining. Students and faculty attend daily Mass together, and the rosary is recited each day. Outstanding Catholic intellectuals and leaders address the students as part of the lecture series, including Fr. Joseph Fessio, the late Fr. John Hardon, Peter Kreeft, and Joseph Scheidler - to name a few. To be in an atmosphere where the Catholic Faith is loved, professed, and practiced is to begin to understand the meaning of culture as having origins in the cultus, divine worship.

The whole culture of the College cultivates intellectual excellence. The common meal at noon shared by faculty and students and the social occasions that are family-centered cultivate friendship and conversation. Students at Christendom are not ruled by peer culture or dominated by an ethos that seeks pleasure in safe sex, loud music, beer, and television. They enjoy the company and conversation of faculty members, and they delight in the spouses and children of their instructors. Exceptionally imaginative and especially social, these students understand the meaning of good old-fashioned fun. Faculty members and their families are invited to all of their extra-curricular activities, from dances to talent shows to Oktoberfest to St. Patrick's Day festivities.

Compared to the prestigious universities, Christendom is a humble, obscure place. To judge it merely from the outside is to be beguiled. To be in the midst of an authentic Catholic college, however, is to see, feel, and taste the meaning of culture - men and women from all over the country and from foreign nations following a common way of life that recognizes the objectivity of truth, the universality of the Catholic Church, and the venerable traditions, customs, music, philosophy, history, art, and literature of the Catholic heritage.

Is a Christian culture in a Catholic college a utopia, and are Christendom students perfect and flawless? No, a Christian society is not the City of God, and Christendom students and faculty reflect the same Original Sin that haunts all of mankind. Christendom students commit many of the faults of typical students. They occasionally fall asleep in class, arrive late for an 8:30 class, fall behind in their reading, turn in papers late, study for a Spanish test in an English class, or miss an English class to study for the history test that follows in the next hour. Like all youth, they are often imprudent and fail to weigh consequences or exercise foresight. And like the way of all flesh, they are subject to temptations of the world and the devil.

However, the remarkable characteristic of Christendom students is that they do not deny their faults and sins. They do not call evil good and good evil. When confronted about dereliction of duty, they voluntarily apologize and show true contrition. Also, human failings are not encouraged by the lack of rules or absence of moral ideals at typical secular colleges. On the contrary, Christendom College expects students to be Christian ladies and gentlemen, and governs them according to the highest Catholic moral principles. On the other hand, the typical secular college cultivates an atmosphere of moral relativism in the guise of "tolerance" and "diversity." While many administrators and faculty in secular colleges abdicate their responsibility as adults by sacrificing the norm of in loco parentis for permissive policies and by failing to demand moral excellence, Christendom College always views students as images of God with the dignity of the sons and daughters of their heavenly Father. Students are expected to strive to follow the ideals of Christian perfection.

The Christendom Colleges of today are what the Harvards and Yales of yesterday once were - testimony to the sacredness of learning and the beauty of daily life.

Copyright © 2006 Modern Media