Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
From the very inception of universities as centers of research and study, we see the presence of the Church. In places like Paris, Oxford and Padua, the Church fostered the university as “an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protection and advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage through research, teaching and various services offered” to society (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 12).
Like the great universities that have shaped cultures around the world, our own colleges and universities, in particular Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, are centers of advanced learning and creativity that continue to shape culture and in many ways serve the good of humanity. The purpose of this letter is to outline the vision for the Church’s apostolic work in our universities, especially through our Catholic Newman Centers.
Gratitude for the history of ASU and NAU
Dating back to the late nineteenth century, both Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University have provided quality higher education for countless Catholic faithful. These men and women, in turn, have made invaluable contributions to society, here in Arizona and beyond. Our state motto, Ditat Deus — meaning “God enriches” — lies at the center of the seals of both ASU and NAU. This motto aptly sums up the work that the Newman Centers of these universities have carried out for many decades. Indeed, God enriches our lives through the faithful pursuit of truth and the authentic practice of love.
On behalf of the Diocese of Phoenix, I extend my gratitude to all the priests, religious and lay faithful who have served in these academic settings over the years. This important work has included evangelization, sacramental ministry, catechesis, and outreach to those most in need, including the poor, the marginalized, and the unborn. In particular, I wish to extend my gratitude to the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) for their tireless service over the course of many years in our universities.
Catholic understanding of university life
John Henry Cardinal Newman describes the university as a “seat of wisdom, a light of the world… an Alma Mater of the rising generation” (Newman, “What is a University,” paragraph #11), insofar as the university draws together every discipline of knowledge into one. Taking its name from this servant of God, soon to be beatified, a Newman Center serves in a crucial way the Catholic faithful and indeed all those in search of truth. A Newman Center compliments the pursuit of knowledge and truth with the proclamation of the Good News. The pursuit of the truth finds its greatest end in Christ who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Here students encounter the living God, who in Jesus Christ offers his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4).
by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, December 17th, 2009, Serving Truth in the University