Priest Stresses the Importance of Identity at Canada’s Catholic Colleges

Father Stan Chu Ilo, assistant professor of theology at University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, writing for Canada’s The Catholic Register, recently reflected on his experience of attending post-secondary school at Catholic universities in three different countries.

Not only does he reflect on his own experiences, both as a student, and in working at Catholic universities, but he also suggests the direction he believes Canada’s Catholic institutions of higher education should be going.

The entire educational environment should permeate with religious flavour so that administrators, teachers, staff and students see their university experience as a divine encounter for faith formation. The pluralistic Canadian milieu offers great opportunities but immense challenges in the way we conceive, live, propagate and defend our Catholic identity through Catholic education. Pope John Paul II once observed that a faith that does not become culture is no faith. The Canadian Catholic academy is called to embrace with joy and seriousness the questions Canadian culture poses to our faith.

Later, he discusses the crisis of Catholic education.

The first reality is that Catholicism no longer plays a decisive role in the shaping of the moral, ethical and spiritual vision of contemporary Canadian society, nor is it a strong moral voice or force in the public square. The second reality is a frightening decline in church attendance and the practice of the faith, which has affected Church finances and vocations. This has limited the ability of the Church to invest in Catholic education and social services as in the past.

Father Ilo’s solution? Embracing and strengthening a Catholic college’s Catholic identity and mission, especially in the face of increasing secular partnerships.

Catholic higher education needs to reinvent itself in order to survive. Most Canadian Catholic colleges and universities are already in full partnership with secular universities, offering joint degrees and programs which help with the financial burden. However, these partnerships must be constantly evaluated so that Catholic identity and mission are not sacrificed. The priorities and mission of Catholic colleges and universities often fail to correspond with that of secular universities. That is a change from the past, when Catholic universities flourished and their governance, academic programs, identity, mission and priorities were defined by an ecclesial vocation, rather than by a partnership with secular universities.