Following an initiative by a number of US Catholic academics, concerned at the condition of Catholic higher education, the International Catholic University (ICU) was launched in 1994, with strong emphasis on fidelity to the Church's teachings and doctrines.
ICU's founder and director is Dr Ralph McInerney, Professor of Medieval Studies and Director of the Jacques Maritain Centre at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. The names of ICU's Board of Directors and Academic Council include James Hitchcock, Janet E. Smith, Msgr William B. Smith, Charles E. Rice, Michael Novak and Russell Hittinger.
ICU states that it is dedicated to embodying the ideal of a Catholic university as set out in Pope John Paul II's 1990 Apostolic Letter, From the Heart of the Church (Ex Corde Ecclesiae).
As the title of that document makes clear, the university as an institution was founded under the patronage of the Church. From the beginning of the 13th century the new universities had their origins in the monastic and cathedral schools that preceded them, and the liberal education of those schools harked back to the Roman imperial education in which St Augustine had been involved; and even further back, to the schools of ancient Athens.
While the remote roots of the first universities were pagan, the mark of medieval education was the living relation established between reason and the Christian faith. The university became the institutional embodiment of the conviction that faith and reason are compatible and, indeed, reinforce one another, as the Pope's recent encyclical Faith and Reason underlines.
In our time a widespread assumption has taken root that the university is by definition secular. Whatever the religious auspices under which it began, the university is now seen as having evolved and matured into a thoroughly secular institution in which faith can play no integral role. Many have expressed the view that Catholic colleges and universities must necessarily follow this course, finishing up indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. The faith may at times be visible in liturgies or a keen sense of social responsibility, but the university's mind and imagination will remain largely untouched by it.
Many of the over 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States have already shown signs of distancing themselves from the official ideals of Catholic higher education, and following paths quite opposed to the principles advanced in From the Heart of the Church - as well as in Newman's Idea of a University. Reactions to the papal document, together with the history of theological dissent since 1968, have made it clear that US Catholic campuses have become a battleground, where the ultimate issue still remains in doubt.
Catholic scholars for whom the outlook in From the Heart of the Church is simple common sense are no longer in a majority in college and university faculties. Many are hostile, indifferent or unaware of any problems. It is no longer rare for a student in a Catholic institution to realise that his professor is questioning and opposing, rather than clarifying and explaining, the most fundamental tenets of the faith.
It was in response to this crisis that International Catholic University was founded. It was thought that if the leading Catholic scholars supportive of the Magisterium were gathered onto one campus, the ideal of the Catholic university could be readily realised. This was made more possible by the rapid advances in electronic communication that have given rise to long-distance education.
And so, following a few dozen phone calls and consultation with Mother Angelica at Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), ICU was launched. Within months, its lecturers were appearing on EWTN.
The aim of ICU is to make the Catholic intellectual, cultural and literary patrimony available to those unable to attend a traditional campus. It does what every Catholic college and university should be doing. The first stage of the project was to make available the Catholic patrimony. This has involved two dozen courses of lectures made available on video and audio tape, some of them transmitted via EWTN.
The second phase has now seen an upgrading of eight of these courses to a level where they can receive credit on the same basis as regular graduate-level college courses. The taped lectures have become cores around which reading and writing assignments are fulfilled and examinations taken. In co-operation with Holy Apostles College and Seminary, and with the approval of the Connecticut State Board of Higher Education, courses are now available which lead to a Master of Arts degrees in Philosophy and Theology. The list of course topics includes Thom-ism, Introduction to Sexual Ethics, Religious Art History, Nature and Grace, Patristics, Metaphysics and The Logic of Religion.
To be eligible to tackle these courses, candidates need to possess a bachelor level degree from an accredited college or university with sufficiently respectable academic results. Also needed is a VCR player and computer, since the assigned professors will communicate by e-mail, with required readings to be downloaded from the ICU web site.
International Catholic University can be contacted at PO Box 495, Notre Dame, IN 46556-0495, USA, tel + (800) 771 7346. E-mail: ICU@skyenet.net, Website: http://www.catholicity.com