What is the Catholic part of our mission all about?

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition: What is it? Why should I care?

Fall Forum College of Saint Benedict / Saint John’s University (August 20, 2003) by William J. Cahoy, Ph.D., Dean: Saint John's School of Theology Seminary


What is the Catholic part of our mission all about? How can I be part of it? What is expected of me as an employee? Do I want to be part of this? These and a host of other questions need to be addressed. We care because we all have a stake in this and we need to listen to and learn from each other.


But why should someone who is not a Catholic care? And if they do care, how do they connect and contribute? Isn't it out of place for non-Catholics to tell Catholics about their business? No. Not in this case.


We will say more about the content of this Tradition shortly, so for now let me just say that it is a 2,000-year body of thought, literature and art that has been historically influential and continues to influence the 1.1 billion Catholics in the world. As institutions devoted to intellectual pursuits, to advancing human understanding and simply satisfying curiosity, this is a body of knowledge, a set of claims and constructs, that can be studied by anyone, whatever their particular religious commitments.


Moreover, if Catholics are to understand their own tradition, they need to do so in dialogue with those who are not themselves Catholic. The diversity of backgrounds and contributions in the group assembled here is a strength of these institutions not a weakness-and it is a strength precisely as Catholic. It makes us more Catholic, not less.


So what is the Catholic Intellectual Tradition? One way to answer that is to say that it is this 2,000-year conversation about the world, our place in it, God's work in it and our relation to God. This tradition is broader and older by centuries than the university. But for a large part of that history, this tradition, this conversation, has been institutionalized at schools such as ours.

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