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Benedictine College Embraces Mandatum

  • TIM DRAKE

Archbishop James Patrick Keleher had a problem that's good to have. He didn't need to invite Benedictine College's theology faculty to apply for the mandatum they all came to him.

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The Abbey on the campus of Benedictine College consists of living quarters for the monks, a chapter room, infirmary, and various work and recreation rooms. (175 rooms in all)

It was wonderful," Archbishop Keleher said. "I didn't have to ask them. They volunteered."

Benedictine College is ranked 43rd among Midwestern master's universities by U.S. News and World Report's America's Best Colleges 2003. The school currently has an enrollment of approximately 950 students.

The school's openness about the mandatum is just one of the reasons Wally and Katy Boever of Lincoln, Neb., chose the college for two of their eight children. Catherine and Anne Boever will be returning to Benedictine in the fall as sophomores.

Wally Boever told of their initial visit to the campus.

"We had lunch with President Dr. Daniel Carey," he said. "During lunch, my father-in-law asked the president, 'What about the mandatum?' The president gave us an answer that we appreciated, saying that even before it had come into play, it was important to the college."

The Register is investigating Catholic colleges and universities featured in U.S. News & World Report's college guide, asking: Are parents allowed to know whether those who teach theology intend to teach in communion with the Church? Or has the opposite happened is the canon-law mandatum being used to protect dissenters?

Parents have a canon law right, stemming from their baptism, to know whether the theologians teaching their children are teaching in communion with the Church.

During his meeting with U.S. cardinals last year, Pope John Paul II said parents "must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life."

Since 1983, canon law has required that a Catholic theologian teaching Catholic theology in a Catholic university receive a mandatum from the local bishop showing the theologian's intention to teach with the Church. The requirement was highlighted in a footnote in the Pope's 1990 apostolic constitution on higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). U.S. bishops began requiring the mandatum in 2001.

Canon 812 reads: "It is necessary that those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies have a mandatum from the competent ecclesiastical authority."

Benedictine is one of very few of the nation's 235 Catholic colleges that are willing to reveal who has the mandatum. All professors teaching Catholic theology at the college have applied for and received the mandatum. Even more, the college has made the mandatum a condition for hiring theology faculty.

"Our mission is to be a Catholic, Benedictine college, and this seems like such a simple thing to do," said Kim Shankman, dean of the college.

Shankman said she's heard the arguments about academic freedom and supervision but argued that some of the college's disciplines already go through far more intrusive processes.

"The social science department is in the process of complying its teaching standards to be certified by the Kansas State Department of Education," Shankman said. "That process is far more complicated, intrusive and overbearing than the mandatum. It's mind-boggling how much more difficult that process is, and yet no one talks about the outside influence or the lack of academic freedom."

Assistant professor of theology Dr. Edward Sri doesn't think the mandatum requirement hinders his teaching. Rather, he thinks it does just the opposite.

"It enhances my academic freedom because I want to teach in the heart of the Church," Sri said. "As a Catholic theologian, I have a responsibility and desire to teach in full communion with the magisterium. The mandatum helps me to do that."

Catholic Identity

Sri said Benedictine's Catholic identity is apparent not only in the theology classroom but also in the college environment as a whole.

More than 200 students attend daily Mass, 300 students skip a meal each week and donate the food to the poor, more than 200 attend on-campus Bible studies through the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and in the past year alone the college has witnessed nine students go on to a religious vocation.

The Catholic identity is also evident in the residence halls.

"All resident directors study the virtues, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Pope's theology of the body and the documents on the dignity of the human person and the vocation of women," said Father Brendan Rolling, director of residence life and assistant dean of students. The campus has six resident directors and 27 residence assistants.

"We explain the rationale behind the policies at Benedictine," Father Rolling said. "Our visitation policy, for example, doesn't just say that you can't visit someone of the opposite sex at a certain time. Our hope is that deep friendships will form while students are on campus and that students discover their vocations through those friendships. The best way for those relationships to be sustained and to grow is through chaste relationships."

Father Rolling admitted he hears more confessions and does more spiritual direction than dealing with discipline problems.

"We hear confessions at 9 p.m., a half hour before Mass, but the demand from students was so high that we started doing confessions again after Mass," he said. "There are times when we don't leave chapel until 1 a.m."

"It's amazing what we've seen happen on campus," Father Rolling added. "Discipline issues have dropped 50%, and the financial costs of vandalism have dropped 40%."

Still, Benedictine deals with the average problems that face every college campus.

"We still have all the normal problems," Father Rolling said, "but students are coming to terms with them through the sacraments."

"The number of spontaneous ministries that are arising from students is just exploding," he added. "There is a group of 30 students that have a Christian music ministry to juvenile delinquents in the community. In addition to small-group Bible studies, there are groups that pray the Daily Office together prior to bedtime and others that go on hiking trips but ask to have Mass included as part of it."

"The college gets high praise from the students as being exciting and in full conformity with the magisterium of the Church," Archbishop Keleher said. "There is a very lively Catholic spirit that marks the campus, which for any bishop is a delight to behold."

The college's theology department has seen its majors grow from seven in 1998 to 95 currently.

Students such as the Boevers and senior Nathan Stanley appreciate the campus' openness regarding the mandatum.

Originally from Liberty, Mo., Stanley said he finds it reassuring to know he is being taught a Catholic education that is in line with the Church. After graduation he hopes to pursue a career in Catholic higher-education administration.

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The Author

Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist and author.  He has published more than 600 articles in various publications. He serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Magazine. Tim Drake is the author of There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots, Saints of the Jubilee, and Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow's Church. He resides in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. 

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