McNeill was committed to Catholic education – and the success of Sacred Heart Junior College
Monsignor Leon McNeill has been described as a strong advocate for Catholic education and Sacred Heart Junior College, the predecessor institution of Newman University. A brief look at his life shows why.
His year at Catholic University, appointment as diocesan superintendant of schools, and involvement in Catholic Rural Life and its work in comprehensive Catholic education all placed him in the middle of a national movement to improve Catholic education.
He was well-versed in educational theory, and determined to have the best Catholic school system in the nation. He also, as his correspondence shows, worked tirelessly, asking for help and guidance from experts, at times begging for their reports, plans and theories “as soon as you can possibly send them.”
As early as 1928 his articles about education – for example, “Rural Courses of Study” in Catholic Rural Life – appeared in Catholic journals. He also wrote book reviews, several textbooks for adult discussion groups, and worked with the state to secure accreditation.
McNeill believed in Catholic education, from teacher training through 12 years of school to adult education. To him, an institution of higher learning was the crown of the system. McNeill worked in concert with the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. He was not going to let the college fail.
To keep spirits up during the founding and early years of the college, he encouraged people with the words “Caritas Christi Urget Nos,” the Charity of Christ Urges Us. Now the motto of the college, the words, applied to his life, assume personal meaning.
As president, McNeill was responsible for funding. Describing the early years, he states, “We didn’t have finances, nobody had the experience. I would beg $100, $200, or $300 at a time when it was needed to pay current bills from local Catholics.”
He also turned to the diocesan Catholic Action Committee for financial support, which in turn gave him the opportunity to introduce the college to the community. Composed of prominent Catholics, the committee proved a good partner for the college. One of its major events, the Catholic Action Dinner, was held on campus until 1945.
Through the Young Women’s Sodality, an organization that worked to further the goals of Catholic Action issues, the college also promoted the religious and political activities of Catholic Action and, at the same time, brought people to campus. The two groups also addressed social issues together by holding retreats, organizing letter-writing campaigns, presenting group discussions and sponsoring speakers.
McNeill’s “tireless” work did not stop there, and eventually it took a toll. In addition to his work as superintendent and college president, he was briefly chancellor of the diocese, helped lead the establishment of the African American St. Peter Claver Parish in Wichita, was recording secretary for Catholic Rural Life, published numerous pieces, maintained extensive personal and professional correspondence and, of course, carried out priestly duties.
When he resigned as college president in 1945, the Bishop gave him a year leave of absence to regain his health and strength.
– Joyce Suellentrop
Tags: Catholic Education, Leon McNeill, Newman University, Sacred Heart Junior College