Founders' Day Celebration Features Discussion on Vibrant Mission of Catholic Colleges
February 14, 2011
Emmanuel President Sister Janet Eisner, SND invited members of the college community to reflect upon the history and current state of Catholic higher education in America during the 19th annual Founders' Day celebration on February 3rd. The event also included a panel discussion on the college's programs in Theology & Religious Studies and Philosophy.
Each year on Founders' Day, the Emmanuel community reflects upon the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame by St. Julie Billiart and the founding of the college in 1919. Sponsored by the Center for Mission and Spirituality, Founders' Day is part of a weeklong celebration that includes prayer services, discussions and local community service opportunities for students, faculty and staff.
In her address titled "The Vibrant Mission of Catholic Colleges Today," Sr. Janet credited the philosophical basis for founding a Catholic college to 19th century Roman Catholic cardinal and author, John Henry Newman, beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010. Newman viewed the study of theology as essential to a liberal arts education and defined a Catholic college as "a place in which the intellect may safely range and speculate; sure to find its equal in some antagonist activity, and its judge in the tribunal of truth."
Sr. Janet referenced that it was Newman's forward-thinking approach that eventually guided the establishment of Catholic colleges and universities. Today there are more than 220 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, from small liberal arts colleges to research universities both in rural and in urban areas. In total, they enroll over 800,000 students across the country. These institutions include 28 law schools, five medical schools and 16 doctoral programs in theology.
Fittingly, the significance behind the college's recent decision to introduce a new Department of Theology and Religious Studies (formerly Religious Studies) and reintroduce the major in philosophy would not have been lost on Newman, who viewed the study of these disciplines as essential to a Catholic liberal arts education and "part of the whole truth."
Immediately following Sr. Janet's remarks, Sr. Mary Johnson, SND, professor of sociology and religious studies and the director of the Center for Mission and Spirituality, moderated a panel that discussed the importance of these initiatives at Emmanuel.
The panel included: Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Department Chair Reverend Thomas Leclerc, M.S.; Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair Dr. Tom Wall; and students Walter Stepanenko '11 and Christine Kourkoulis '11.
Stepanenko and Kourkoulis shared their interests in establishing individualized majors in philosophy and religious studies, respectively. Stepanenko spoke of his longstanding interest in discovering "what we can learn of philosophy from scientific fact." Kourkoulis said that studying in a Catholic environment has enhanced her understanding of her own Greek Orthodox background. Both students plan on attending graduate school to pursue further studies in their fields.
Dr. Wall and Rev. Leclerc cited the valuable role the disciplines play in Emmanuel's mission and identity. "It reinforces the study of the liberal arts at the college," said Rev. Leclerc.