STEUBENVILLE, Ohio—One by one, 19 professors, priests, and administrators stood before Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey Monforton and publicly promised “that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church.”
Their pledges came during the Oath of Fidelity and Profession of Faith made during the Welcoming Mass for New Students held August 23 at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
The ceremony is a tradition at Franciscan University dating to 1989, when, following a directive issued that year by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Franciscan University became the first Catholic university in the United States to administer the Oath of Fidelity to its theology faculty. Each year since then, new theologians, priests, and other appropriate personnel at Franciscan University have taken the oath.
This year’s turnout was unusually large as the entire President’s Cabinet, Sacred Music Department, and Philosophy Department accepted an invitation by Franciscan University President Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, to also take the oath.
Facing Bishop Monforton, the candidates promised to “firmly accept and hold each and every thing definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals,” among other affirmations contained in the oath and profession.
Father Sheridan took the occasion to clarify that taking the Oath of Fidelity by the Philosophy Department is not a Church requirement, nor does it mean that Franciscan University believes that philosophical study originates in faith the same way theology does.
“This misunderstanding, called fideism, is foreign to our great Catholic tradition. Philosophy, as Catholics practice it, is a certain work of reason,” he said.
“In his great encyclical, Fides et Ratio, Blessed John Paul II taught that ‘philosophy must remain true to its own principles and methods,’” said Father Sheridan.
He then quoted from the same encyclical where John Paul noted the “profound transformation which philosophy itself must undergo” in relation to revelation. Still quoting the late pontiff, he said, “philosophy, like theology, comes more directly under the authority of the magisterium and its discernment, because of the implications it has for the understanding of Revelation. The truths of faith make certain demands which philosophy must respect.”
Afterwards, Dr. Michael Healy, chair of the Philosophy Department, further explained how Revelation can act as an inspiration for philosophical reason.
“For instance, in his Theology of the Body, John Paul II starts in revelation with Genesis, but this becomes an inspiration for further philosophical thought on man and woman, on love, on community.”
Healy said the ceremony was “very beautiful, very natural. It’s just a public expression of what we already do and already are. As philosophers, we uphold the ‘legitimate autonomy of reason’ [John Paul II], but we are also men and women of faith and thus recognize the limits of reason.”
Those who took the Oath of Fidelity and Profession of Faith this year were: Father Gerald Gordon, TOR, director, Franciscan Heritage Office; Father Nathan Malavolti, TOR, vice president, Community Relations; Dr. Jessica Ewell, assistant professor, sacred music; Professor Nicholas Will, visiting assistant professor, sacred music; Dr. John Crosby, professor, philosophy; Dr. James Harold, professor, philosophy; Dr. Michael Healy, professor, philosophy; Dr. Patrick Lee, professor, philosophy; Dr. Mark Roberts, professor, philosophy; Dr. Jonathan Sanford, professor, philosophy; Dr. Daniel Kempton, vice president, Academic Affairs; Mr. Michael Hernon, vice president, Advancement; Mr. Joel Recznik, vice president, Enrollment Services; Mr. David Schmiesing, vice president, Student Life; Mr. Adam Scurti, vice president, Human Resources and Legal; Mr. David Skiviat, vice president, Finance; and Mr. Brenan Pergi, executive director, Human Resources.
Over 1,000 new students, their parents, and family members attended the Mass, which heralded the start of the 2013-2014 academic year.