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Symposium Examines Role of Catholic Universities as “Authentic Agents of the New Evangelization”


Speakers included Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, John Garvey, Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR; evening talk by Dr. Scott Hahn

Posted:  2013-10-25

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 STEUBENVILLE, Ohio—“Complacency is not in the Catholic vocabulary,” when one seeks to evangelize the entire human race, said Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville. “Enthusiasm, joy, and courage play pivotal roles. I ask, who wants to be a member of a lackluster, depressed, and cowardly community?     

Bishop Monforton’s message—delivered at the start of the Catholic Higher Education and the New Evangelization Symposium, held October 10-11 at Franciscan University of Steubenville, set the tone for the speeches that followed from Catholic university administrators and professors.

The conference was held as part of the Inaugural Week events celebrating the October 10 inauguration of Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, as the sixth president of Franciscan University. It included talks by Father Sheridan and by John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America.

Speaking about the university he now directs, Father Sheridan said, “As a Catholic university that is academically excellent and passionately Catholic, we must focus our daily activities toward Christ, toward our own personal conversion, so that we can be authentic agents of the new evangelization.” 

FrSean1The new evangelization begins with one’s own conversion, Father Sheridan said. He spoke of St. Francis’ dramatic encounter with a leper, which led him to show mercy to the outcasts of society. As he cleaned the leper’s sores, Francis experienced God’s own gift of mercy to himself. “Each one of us must undergo personal renewal of holiness. Each one of us needs to undergo ongoing conversion so that we can be authentic agents of the new evangelization.”

Franciscan University’s evangelical mission is ingrained in its Mission Statement and bylaws, Father Sheridan said. Among its directives, it charges the University president “to be the shepherd of the people entrusted in my care.”

Threats to the University’s ability to evangelize come from federal mandates that are real and growing, said Father Sheridan. “It’s essential for us here at the University to continue to resist those attacks,” he said.

He repeated Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s message to a group of U.S. bishops shortly before his retirement in which he spoke of “grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression on the political and cultural spheres.”

He asked, “If Franciscan University of Steubenville can’t share its faith with others, how can it actively and authentically participate in the new evangelization?”

Secularism, Father Sheridan warned, “can lead to the privatization of one’s faith, which ultimately leads to the associated problem of relativism.  For some it becomes frightening to identify anything as an absolute truth.”

Father Sheridan said Franciscan University remains committed “to speak the truth and evangelize” in all aspects of its operations. He cited the recently established Father Michael Scanlan Chair in Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization, held by theology professor Dr. Scott Hahn; the courses offered in the new evangelization, and books on the new evangelization written by faculty members.

He described the culture of Franciscan University as one that immerses students in their studies while they pursue holiness, so when they leave they are ready to evangelize.

Circling back to Bishop Monforton’s theme of joy, he said the students “are filled with the joy of living out that faith.  The Franciscan joy we encounter here on a daily basis.”

John Garvey on Catholic Universities  

John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, addressed the schools of thought championed by Pope Leo XIII and John Henry Cardinal Newman, two influential 19th-century Church leaders, and applied them to Catholic higher education.

He said that education fails to prepare students for the world if it omits central truths of mankind. This is especially true in today’s culture, he said, which draws children away from the love of God. “We need to convince our students that God came into the world to change it and that he abides with us today in the Church and the sacraments. We need to do this across the curriculum.”

Whenever possible, Garvey said, Catholic professors should be appointed to teach at Catholic universities to insure that those committed to the truth are a majority of the faculty.

Garvey looked to Newman for a spirit of freedom proper to a Catholic university. This spirit stands in stark contrast to secular and utilitarian systems of education, which see knowledge as its own end.

“We must begin with our ‘yes,’ rather than our ‘no,’” Garvey said. “We have to start by offering to students and faculty a community dedicated to discovering and teaching what is beautiful and true about the Catholic intellectual tradition. That’s what will inspire them.”

The symposium concluded with a roundtable discussion by Franciscan University faculty members Dr. Anne Hendershott, sociology; Dr. John Crosby, philosophy; Dr. Daniel Kuebler, biology; Dr. Michael Sirilla, theology; and Dr. John Bergsma, theology, and closing remarks by Dr. Daniel Kempton, vice president for Academic Affairs.

DrHahn1Dr. Scott Hahn on the New Evangelization  

Following the symposium, Dr. Scott Hahn, who holds the Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Chair of Biblical Theology in the New Evangelization at Franciscan University, gave a talk to students on the history and purpose of the new evangelization.

Hahn said the new evangelization is not a short-term policy, but a long-term mission for the Church. He traced the roots of the Church’s evangelical mission from the “model Christians and model evangelizers” St. Peter and St. Paul, to the first encyclical of Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei.

“The new evangelization is ‘new,’ not because the Church had suddenly stopped evangelizing for centuries,” said Hahn.  He explained that when Pope John Paul II put the phrase into common usage in the 1980s, he made it very clear that the Church has always evangelized, and that will never cease.

“But what is so new about the new evangelization is not only that it calls for the efforts of every believer in Christ and every single institution of the Church, with no exceptions, no exemptions, but that it also is intended to target those who have suffered the loss of faith,” Hahn said.

Elaborating, he said, “John Paul distinguished two forms of evangelization. The first form he identified as primary, and that is precisely what the Church has been doing for peoples who have never heard of the Gospel or encountered Jesus. It’s an unbroken record of 2,000 years of priests, religious, missionaries, societies, and martyrs. But a second evangelization, or a re-evangelization, is precisely what is required wherever Christians have lost a living sense of the faith and no longer consider themselves as living members of Christ’s mystical body.”

Hahn’s talk, and most of the presentations from the Catholic Higher Education and the New Evangelization Symposium can be watched in their entirety at www.franciscan.edu/inauguration, where you can also view Father Sheridan’s October 10 inaugural address.

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