Monday, November 08, 2004


I made a brief visit at the new Ave Maria University near Naples, FL a few weeks ago. They are still on a temporary campus, while the plans go ahead for the new campus that is being funded by philanthropist, former pizza-man, Tom Monaghan. Having been to several of the "real" Catholic, higher-ed schools, clearly Ave Maria's temporary campus is pretty much nicer than the other schools permanent sites. I'm sure part of the impression came from the lovely, bright Florida sunshine and omni-present flowers, but the place seemed like a lovely place to get liberally educated to me.

More impressive was the climate on campus. The students seemed normal and happy -- not at all like they were in training to be future 1950's misfits on the fringes of 21st Century American culture. They looked college-y in jeans and flip-flops, and when I mentioned cultural icons like The Matrix and the show about nothing, they were right there with me. They were open-eyed,laughed in all the right places, and breathed out a kind of happy confidence. I thought to myself, "Now THIS, the 'New Evangelization' can work with."

I was glad to see that, even though it is optional, there were many students packing the noon Mass, which was also a normal 21st Century looking Catholic liturgy.

My sense is at AMU, they are fitting up their grads to be players in this current culture and Church...not more of the cave-dwelling anawim. Thank God.

I did over-hear one slightly distressing conversation in the student lounge, in which one young guy - cocky with all the insecurity of twenty-something guessing at manhood-ness - was making a case to several other students that women could never be president of the U.S. because they are crippled by emotions. A couple of the female students would have none of it, but they weren't exactly making a slam dunk response. When I mentioned it to the female faculty member I was with, she said, "I have two words for that kid: Margaret Thatcher." I laughed, okay, more than a bit relieved.

One other anecdote from my visit that has been hovering in my brain...The Mass the day I was at AMU was in honor of one of the Roman martyrs - St. Calistus maybe? Anyway, the priest celebrating the Mass noted in his homily, "Now, probably, none of us will be asked to give our lives for our faith...."

I immediately thought, "And what planet do you go home to at night, Father?" It struck me as somewhat irresponsible assurance to a large group of prayerful, orthodox, committed young Catholics, living in the middle of a society that more and more scapegoats them as 'what's wrong with the world.' In my research on the Spanish Civil War, I have found the same kind of willful refusal to note the signs of the times on the part of the clergy back in 1930's Spain. Deafened for decades to an ever-rising tide of hate rhetoric against the Church, these shepherds were holding parish festivals, liturgical processions, youth fieldtrips and catechism classes, right up to the moments when the anarchists stormed the church steps, and swept tens of thousands of priests, religious and laity into mass graves.

There is something so very un-creative in religious leaders refusing to see just a few feet past the obvious. The current horizon (of intra-parish warfare between the Hispanic music ministry fund and the Filipino dinner dance and "who is organizing the next seniors' trip to Vegas anyway?") obscures the future, instead of revealing it. Not that clueless, surprised martyrs are any worse than grim, prepared ones.

But, anyway, if I was a 17 year old again, looking for a college to go to, I would choose AMU over all the others out there. They're doing a good job now, and it is only going to get better. God willing....


Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Nicolosi,

Who are the "future 1950's misfits on the fringes of the 21st Century American culture" and the "cave-dwelling anawim" referred to in your glowing review of Ave Maria U?? Must there be competition and division even among the "real" Catholic higher ed schools?

Can't each just be--according to their call? My daughter attends one of the schools you most likely refer to and each student is their own unique self just as God intended--they even wear jeans!! I looked for any cookie cutter-Stepford-Wives-In-Training evidence on our initial visit, and found none... Yet what unifies them is their genuine love for Christ and His Church. Most students enjoy a lively social life while living according to their Catholic beliefs. Not an easy task in today's world. So bravo to them!! Their faith is so vital that for many it evolves into a lifetime of ministry. But many of the women leave school, get married and begin their families right away--the "old fashioned way". Is that your "1950's" reference?

I admit to not having visited all the "real" Catholic colleges so maybe I'm off base here--if I've missed something crucial--you'll let me know?

I usually really enjoy what you write in this space but I have to say I was a little disappointed in today's post.

step by step

Podatus said...

As a teacher at one of those colleges which is training "future 1950's misfits," I must object. I assume you were using hyperbole, but is the mimicking of certain aspects of current popular culture (i.e. wearing jeans and flip-flops) really an integral part of "the new Evangelization?" All college students, until about 1965, used to have to dress like adults--since college was supposed to be a preparation for adult life. Now adults dress like teenagers and bums.

Same for "normal 21st Century looking Catholic liturgy." Egads! So you would really prefer a Mass that has limited external connection to the Mass as it appeared to Catholics for 1500+ years?

Yes, some people can go too far, I have met "cave-dwelling anawim" orthodox Catholics who give me the willies. Probably these were the types you had in mind, but still this was not a well thought out post. The fact is, the current culture is part of the problem. Ultimately, a college is supposed to train students in culture--which spans the centuries--not simply equip them to be apologists.

Orthodox Catholics in jeans and flip-flops who watch Seinfeld may be an improvement--and maybe even a necessary interim step--but I suspect that, once the persecution comes of which you speak, Catholics will be less interested in mimicking the accoutrements of pop culture. If they have the sense and knowledge, they will chose more durable time-tested materials with which to rebuild a Catholic culture.

WGA Member said...


I can speak with some authority here, as a graduate of one of the schools. I was not meaning to be condemnatory, as much as chiding -- but I will rewrite the post because it's tone is drowning out its substance.

My main concern with the "real" Catholic schools, is the lack of pastoral urgency that I see in many of their graduates. There seems to be a stronger impulse among the grads to "colonize" among the other believers, than to move out and be yeast in the secular lump. And I'm not speaking of all of the grads, but rather my sense of the majority.

Having had three solid decades of the Magdalens, Christendoms, TAC's, Franciscans U's (and the failed colleges like Cardinal Newman that have come and gone), we have to admit honestly, that they haven't produced a lot of leaders in either state or culture.

The nature of the education at these schools is such that one would expect them to produce a HIGHER percentage of leaders, but, instead, they seem to be producing less. I think we have to wonder if the kind of Catholicism being taught is somehow cancelling out the leadership breeding effects of liberal education.

As far as giving students an experience of "higher culture" or "high Catholic culture," I think that can be an interesting exercise for students, but we have to avoid making them nostalgic for another time. More important, we have to equip them to live in this moment in the Church and in the culture. The current culture is rife with pitfalls, but it is their culture, and they need to be able to navigate it so as to renew it in Christ.

Podatus said...

Fair enough and this is better written. I know full well that the colleges you named--for the most part--do not produce "leaders" in the sense you mention. The graduates usually don't go to grad school, they get married young, and have an average of 6 children. They also tend to create their own communities isolated from popular culture.

But how many "leaders" has any small college ever produced in that sense. I look at building culture on the smallest level. Far from promoting a snobby "high Catholic culture" (although I do that, too) I estimate that by the end of my career, due to my very fecund students, I will be responsible for about 10,000 children learning the Salve Regina--before they ever hear of "If you want my body, and you think I'm sexy" (if they ever hear of it). I consider that to be a very direct way to change culture, small but practical.

Obviously you have decided to immerse yourself in "Babylon" and to try to change it for the better. I wish you well. Some people think that is not for them. If Ave Maria can produce people who can have a beneficial impact on mass popular culture, great. But I think this is a much more difficult thing to do.

Brennan said...


"I was glad to see that, even though it is optional, there were many students packing the noon Mass, which was also a normal 21st Century looking Catholic liturgy."

I have to admit that when I see the phrase, "normal 21st Century looking Catholic liturgy" my immediate response is, "oh, you mean mediocre." Not that that would be the fault of Ave Maria (and I have not visited there). It's just that if students are to change the culture for the better, I think it would be good for them to be exposed to high culture. Thus to me it makes sense for these schools to offer at least one Tridentine Latin Mass with Gregorian chant (and the people singing the parts in Latin proper to them). Otherwise students may never be exposed to the best (at least in liturgy) that the Church has to offer. God bless.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifying.
All I can really say is, "The hand that rocks the cradle..."

Maybe these "kids" are onto something?? If these families are the real deal then they are nurturing the next generation of practicing Catholics, maybe even a few nuns and priests are in the mix. And even though they aren't in the midst of Hollywood culture they (hopefully) are still salt and light among their non-Catholic peers.

My daughter is pursuing her graduate degree now and plans to go beyond the church walls and halls after graduation. I feel her school has encouraged this in their missionary outreach to the poor and homeless not only on the streets of their city but to outposts across the world.

But you can't really blame them sometimes for a desire to "create their own world" so to speak. Hey, sometimes I get tired of the culture in my small town and long for a place where "we would all just get along" or something (heaven). But then I realize well, of course...
Thanks again.
Step by Step

regina doman said...

I'm wondering if that Spanish Civil War research you're doing is really getting you down. I've been noting you keep on mentioning martyrdom more and more -
- not wanting to be a facile optimist here, and cheerfulness is not particularly obligatory, but be careful it doesn't get you too depressed. For years I've been trying to figure out the right attitude to have about possible impending martyrdom, but so far all I've figured out is that dwelling on it too much can be unhealthy.

Anyhow, I understand the rant about the cave-dwelling anawim (first time I read that, I thought it was a reference to Star Wars jawas or something), and hey, as a fellow grad of "the Few, the True, the New" orthodox Catholic colleges, I say, keep on ranting. Chiding. It's good for us.

But at the same time, I'd say, give us about ten more years. There are more than a few Few-True-New grads going quietly about their business in offices throughout DC and NYC (particularly DC, which seems to be a TAC/Christendom magnet) and preparing to get up the ranks as the years roll by.

If my sister's lurking somewhere around on this blog, she'll probably tell you about the FUS grad who just won a seat in an election last year (since I'm not political I can't tell you who or where). And she might not tell you that her husband (also a FUS grad) was just elected Councilman-At-Large to the City of Steubenville this past year. Of course that's only two among who knows how many, but there are more.

Grads could do more for this culture, I'm sure, but give it time and I think some leaders will start surfacing on the national radar (Ha! You're one!). And I think we *may* have time for leaders to arise. More time than the anawim in the caves might think.

And going back to the martyrdom post, pray that we don't break out into civil violence for the next twenty years and we may be okay. Or at least better off. The 20th century was the bloodiest, but it also saw the birth of two virtually bloodless revolutions in Poland and the Philipines whose effects will be felt for a long time. I think that was God trying to give us a bit of a game plan.

regina doman said...

Oh, yeah, and I would have up-smacked that guy at the cocktail party.

What I want is for Helen Alvare to run for president. I'm just absolutely convinced she has what it takes. I've been wanting to tell her that for years.

Nate said...

I think what Barbara was trying to say (of course I don't speak for her, I don't even know her, and I'm not a mindreader) is that the New Evangelization requires young Catholics who are willing to engage the culture, not who want to cut themselves off from it in pursuit of a type of pseudo-monasticism. I don't think she's trying to distinguish between those who will marry and have twelve children and those who will go on to grad school -- I don't think she has a problem with either, and I'm sure she sees the roles that both play with their proper importance. I think what she's trying to say is that the only way to change the culture and thus, the world, and get it to know Christ again is if there are people involved in it and actively engaging it -- instead of trying to separate themselves from it. The job of the laity is to engage the culture, which is currently hostile to Christ and Christianity, and evangelize.

A married person with twelve children, actively involved in the parish and the community, who chooses not to contracept and shows that he or she is open to life, can be just as effective (if not more effective) than a grad school student, and I'm sure Barbara thinks so too. No need to get up in arms, all she's saying is that the laity needs to engage the culture -- in a diversity of ways.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Barb
(Posting in reply to your rewrite)I'm new to this blogging thing so please bear with me....I had so much fun reading various posts that I went back a few weeks and saw the post on "the 2 stories about not getting it." Could they be applicable here as well? Maybe both mistaken approaches illustrated a bit of the "pastoral zeal" which you have found lacking in 30 years of graduates from those orthodox Catholic colleges? Few recognized leaders in either state or culture, true; but perhaps only few are called to that? Perhaps the alumni/leaven has been out there working simply, quietly through the many years needed to accomplish evangelization "the" way? hard work and good example of lives lived for Christ....hmmmm, which really means dying for Him after all in many ways.
Just a thought.

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