Why are you doing this?

The problem of secularization at Marquette and other Catholic universities has been a long time in the making and is symptomatic of the larger secularization of American culture and, sadly, many aspects of the Church itself. The following provides some history on this phenomenon as it applies to American Catholic universities and Marquette in particular.

This means that the intellectual campus of a Catholic university has no boundaries and no barriers.

The Land O’ Lakes statement
July 23, 1967

Land O’ Lakes
Among the many culture-shifting events of the 1960s was the Land O’ Lakes Conference of 1967. Held at Notre Dame University’s retreat house in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, 26 Catholic college and university administrators (none from Marquette) decided they would change the course of Catholic higher education in America forever.

The theme of the conference was “What is the nature and role of the contemporary Catholic University?” After two meetings, the conferees agreed upon what that nature and role would be and articulated it in a formal statement called The Idea of the Catholic University. For some, the statement was a long overdue declaration of independence from the strictures of the Vatican. For others it was the heartbreaking sell-out of the Catholic intellectual tradition in exchange for academia’s philosophical flavor-of-the-day: secular humanism.

Regardless, the Land O’ Lakes re-definition of “Catholic university” was quickly and enthusiastically adopted by virtually every Catholic university in the United States, including Marquette. The winds of change had been blowing across campuses since the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and countless other cultural upheavals of the era had made Catholic colleges and universities rife for revolution. By the time it was distributed in 1969, the Land O’ Lakes statement was merely a formal articulation of what had been set in motion years before.

Many rejoiced in the new “spirit of freedom.” Many others wondered if Catholic universities had not just negated their very reason for being.  As Marquette historian Thomas J. Jablonsky writes in his history of Marquette University’s first century, Milwaukee’s Jesuit University, Marquette 1881-1981

“In the aftermath of the demographic, fiscal, cultural, and governance revolutions endured by American higher education during the sixties, Catholic institutions experienced what acclaimed author Philip Gleason describes as an appraisal of a ‘taken-for-granted reality’: their Catholic identity. Marquette joined other Catholic institutions such as Notre Dame in a rigorous self-analysis during the early seventies. Simply put, in Gleason’s words: ‘why should a university, be it ever so good academically, exist as a Catholic university if its religious character does not somehow affect its mode of intellectual operation?’”  (Jablonsky, pg. 359)

At Marquette there was indeed cause for concern. The change in the character of the university had been rapid and profound. In the years just prior to Vatican II and the Land O’ Lakes statement, Marquette University was among the nation’s brightest beacons of Catholicism.

“Between 1948 and 1961, more than 500 (Marquette) students entered the religious life, the largest number among American Catholic universities. One hundred and twenty-one women joined 41 different congregations; 106 men joined 28 religious orders and congregations; 120 men left to become priests in 22 dioceses; and 150 men decided to follow St. Ignatius. In addition to the presence of Jesuit priests and scholastics on campus, hundreds of nuns attended what was now (late 50s-early 60s) the nation’s largest Catholic university. … In the mid-sixties, as vocations reached all-time highs across America, several religious congregations and even private developers proposed year-round residences to house the nuns, brothers, and priests attending Marquette University.” (Jablonsky, pg. 263)

President Fr. John Raynor

Disordering the Order
Despite all this, in 1967 Marquette President Father John Raynor announced his desire to transfer the university from Jesuit to lay control. Why? There were practical realities, but it seems the decision was made primarily in response to the prevailing sentiments of the later sixties.

“Father Raynor explained to his confreres that a future restructuring of Marquette’s board of trustees was necessary because of the ‘present inadequacies of merely three trustees, all Jesuits,’ the ‘philosophy and expectations of the North Central Association,’ ‘federal relations,’ the ‘thrust’ of the Second Vatican Council, and the ‘thrust of common sense.’” (Jablonsky pg. 309)

The Marquette board of trustees was transferred to lay control in January 1969.

During this same period of time, the Jesuit order—at Marquette and across the United States—was entering into an era of dissent and decline which, desired or not, largely characterizes the order to this day.

“The Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Pedro Arrupe, visited his Milwaukee confreres in April 1966, an honor heralded by the chronicler of the Jesuit community as, ‘one of the greatest spiritual inspirations of the year.’ Five months later Pope Paul VI chastised the Jesuits, accusing some of them of entertaining ‘strange and sinister plans.’ Two years later even more controversy arose in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae, the pope’s encyclical on contraceptive practices. For most students at Marquette, this directive reaffirmed long-understood teachings. For others, the defiant dismissal of Pope Paul’s position by thirteen diocesan priests and Marquette faculty members underscored an evolving emphasis on conscience. Between 1969 and 1975, the (Marquette) Tribune announced several times that Jesuits had resigned from the Society (including two former chairs of the theology department), heightening this confusion: what exactly did and Catholic and Jesuit mean at Marquette University in the modern world? (The Society of Jesus in America lost more than a third of its members, dropping from over 8,000 to fewer than 5,000, in the twenty-five years after 1965.) (Jablonsky, pg. 363)

Not surprisingly, this high profile dissent and “evolving emphasis on conscience” did little to help students who were seeking—and paying for—a Catholic education.

“If faculty and administrators were grappling with the future of Marquette’s mission, what was the everyday undergraduate to make of this fast-moving spiritual landscape?” (Jablonsky, pg. 363)

From Catholic to Non-Denominational
Throwing gasoline on the fire was Marquette administration which, in 1971, disbanded the university’s Committee on Spiritual Welfare, responsible for the preservation and promulgation of Catholic identity, and replaced it with the “Office of Campus Ministry.” This new office took an odd track in advancing its critical mission.

“A Lutheran pastor joined the (Campus Ministry) team, with financial support from his own synod. …By the end of the seventies, the salary budget had doubled and clergymen from the Methodist and Episcopal faiths had been added to the staff. Non-Catholics as well as Catholics were now being served, as the ministry director urged every member of the Marquette community to be ‘a minister to everyone else.’” (Jablonsky, pg. 365)

Institutionally, Marquette’s mission had been altered from one of Catholic education to non-denominational education in less than ten years, and yet the university persisted in calling itself “Catholic.”

In the mid-seventies, a Jesuit named Gregory F. Lucey wrote a doctoral dissertation on the state of Catholicity in contemporary Catholic higher education using Marquette as his case study. In an on-campus debate in 1979, Father Lucey presented a gloomy prognosis for the university.

MU 1970s protest

“Although Catholicity may be deeply embedded in the institutional character of the institution and dominant in the lives of a large portion of the faculty… in 1977 Catholicity was endangered by the internal dynamics of the institution. If observable patterns continue, by 1998 Catholicity as a distinctive character of the university will not have merely changed but will be lost.”  (Jablonsky, pg. 364).

But Jablonsky’s presumably favorable review of a university centennial-celebration news release strongly suggests that Father Lucey’s prediction had already come to pass by 1981.

“A 1981 centennial news release depicted what Catholic meant at Marquette University: in addition to the Jesuits, the theology department, and the campus ministry office, the administration pointed to the volume of community service as evidence of the student body’s religious convictions. Through these activities, the activism of the sixties lived on well beyond the school’s centennial and into the new millennium.” (Jablonsky, pg. 367)

A disintegrating Jesuit order, a rudderless department of theology, a devotedly non-denominational Campus Ministry, a commitment to community service indistinguishable from that of college campuses—faith-based and secular—across the country, “the activism of the sixties” —what about any of this is “Catholic”?

A Line in the Sand
“Catholic” means something, something distinct, defined and sacred, an eternal yet knowable deposit of faith given directly to man by Christ, protected by the Holy Spirit and advanced in the world through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Catholic is not something you are, it’s something you do. It is not subjective, it is an objective reality, a standard, a goal, a map, a code of conduct, a way of living, a clear and distinct means to an end – that end being salvation. Thus Catholic identity is not a title you simply claim, it is something you explicitly, consistently and ardently demonstrate. It is something unique in the character, in the way things are done.

Many don’t believe any of this, thus, logically, they do not identify themselves as Catholic. It is an odd phenomenon of our day, however, that so many others—individuals and institutions—who also do not believe any or most of this do identify themselves as Catholic. One speculates as to why. There have been cultural advantages to doing so. As modern society increasingly views Catholicism as an ideology of ignorance, hatred, bigotry and intolerance, however, one also speculates as to how long it will be before these individuals and institutions shed themselves of this unfashionable association.

As regards Marquette, Philip Gleason’s question still stands: “Why should a university, be it ever so good academically, exist as a Catholic university if its religious character does not somehow affect its mode of intellectual operation?” Marquette’s religious character does still, in some ways, affect its mode of intellectual operation. But by all empirical indications it does so in a way that makes plain that religious character has little to do with Catholicism as defined by the Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture of the Catholic Church.

For faithful Catholics, the ambiguous and inconsistent Catholic identity at Marquette and other nominally Catholic institutions is unacceptable. These institutions need to either get serious about restoring the Catholicity they claim or publically acknowledge their secular nature and end the sacrilegious farce once and for all. To condone what the Church regards as sinful and condemn that which it does not, all while posing as an apostolate of that same Church, is to bear false witness and to give scandal in a manner that quite potentially falls into the category of mortal sin.

Despite all of this, we the alumni, parents, students, friends and associates of the Louis Joliet Society remain hopeful.  We believe that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Marquette University can still and must rediscover the beauty of its authentic Catholic identity and reassert itself as a leader in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

This is, as I say, the first freedom that I claim: the freedom to restore.

G.K. Chesterton

We believe that the world is in desperate need of a strong Catholic Church. In order to be strong, the Church needs Her universities to be the beacons of the light of Christ they were founded to be. Thus, of the many fronts upon which the war to restore the Church is being fought, we choose this front—our beloved Marquette University.

That’s why we’re doing this.