Newman University and the Church


Ex corde Ecclesiae and the role of a Catholic university

By John E. McCormick, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology

Ex corde Ecclesiae is an apostolic constitution issued by Pope John Paul II in August 1990 that outlines the role and operation of Catholic universities. In 2001, after approval by the U.S. Bishops and formal recognition by the Congregation of Bishops, The Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States became a particular law.

In this application, bishops committed themselves to a 10-year review process, which would center on conversations among bishops and Catholic university presidents regarding how each institution has put into practice the key tenets of Ex corde Ecclesiae: Catholic identity, mission, ecclesial communion, and service rendered.

This year marks the time of that 10-year review, which seems a fitting occasion to highlight some elements of the document, and note some of the ways Newman University is implementing its vision.

Ex corde Ecclesiae begins by developing a theological understanding of a Catholic university by focusing on its identity and mission, while the second part lays out general norms for its governance. The document’s title comes from the Latin for “from the heart of the Church,” situating the life of a Catholic university within the life of the Church as a whole, emphasizing the relationship between faith and reason as well as between the Church and culture.

In 2007, as part of Newman University’s strategic planning, a task force was formed to focus on the institution’s Catholic identity and mission. Among many activities that resulted from these planning sessions, a symposium focusing on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT) was recently held, which included a group of faculty and staff focusing on the CIT and its integration into the curriculum, particularly in the Newman Studies Program launched this fall (see related stories).

In speaking of Catholic identity, Ex corde Ecclesiae highlights four essential characteristics of a Catholic university as Catholic: a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such; a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon human knowledge to which it contributes through research; fidelity to the Christian message as mediated through the Church, and an institutional commitment to the people of God and the human family in their pilgrimage through life.

Drawing from John Henry Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University, Ex corde Ecclesiae envisions a university as a community of scholars who use methods proper to their disciplines, but also seek an integration of knowledge, that is, one that seeks to determine the relative place and meaning of various disciplines in accordance with a Gospel vision of the human person and the world. This integration of knowledge is at the heart of the Newman Studies Program. The university’s Core Values of Catholic Identity and Academic Excellence also resonate with this section of the document.

With regard to the mission of a Catholic university, specific characteristics fall under the headings of service to Church and society, pastoral ministry, cultural dialogue, and evangelization. Since a Catholic university is immersed in human society, it ought to be engaged in a search for solutions to serious contemporary problems in areas that include “the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world’s resources, and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level.” Furthermore, in keeping with its mission to spread the Gospel message, the Catholic university “is open to all human experience and is ready to dialogue with and learn from any culture.” Our Core Values of Culture of Service and Global Perspective find a home in this section of the document.

The final section of the document on general norms helps develop the link to the Code of Canon Law while also recognizing the need for local and regional adaptation. Consistent with this section, the Catholic character of Newman University is part of all guiding documents. All members of the Theology Department also hold the required mandatum from the Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita regarding their commitment to teach authentic Catholic doctrine.

In addition, the Newman Theology program graduated its first students in the Masters of Theological Studies program in Spring 2011, and looks forward to graduating the first students in the Masters of Art in Theology this Fall.

In keeping with the challenge of Ex corde Ecclesiae, all of these efforts undertaken by Newman University seek to serve the Church and community to more faithfully live out the Gospel.