Prof Garth ABRAHAM, President of St Augustine, has recently returned from a workshop, convened by the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), in Rome. Held between 24 and 29 September under the title ‘Leading Catholic Universities in the 21st Century’, the workshop attracted 24 participants from Catholic universities in 18 different countries on five continents. The aim of the workshop was to encourage participants to think critically about their own institutions and how best to grow and develop those institutions within an increasingly competitive environment. Amongst the issues discussed were: institutional strategic planning; tends in global higher education; types of university culture and implications for leadership; Characteristics of successful universities; university governance; internationalisation strategies and managing change in universities.
On one of the evenings of the workshop, participants were hosted to a dinner at the Angelicum (the Pontifical Dominican university), which was also attended by the leadership of all the Catholic universities in Rome; and, on another evening, the Pontifical Irish College (were participants were being accommodated), hosted a reciprocal dinner.
A highlight of the programme was a morning spent at the Congregation for Catholic Education, in the Vatican, where they were addressed by HE Giuseppe Cardinal VERSALDI (Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation), Msgr Vincenzo ZANI (Secretary of the Congregation), and Fr Friedrich BECHINA FSO (Under-Secretary). Reflecting the content of Pope John Paul II’s constitution for Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990), Fr BECHINA emphasised core characteristics of a Catholic university: it is a place of testimony for the Faith; the academic community is committed to the enterprise through a relationship of trust; access should be made available to all students with ability; the university must involve itself in social outreach programmes; and, the leadership of the institution must be in a fruitful relationship with the hierarchy of the Church. Archbishop ZANI spoke of current research being undertaken by the Congregation, including reflection on the impact of two documents produced by the Second Vatican Council – Gravissimum Educationis and Populorum Progressio – on Catholic universities. Cardinal VERSALDI extended greetings and blessings from His Holiness on IFCU and all participants.
While at the Congregation for Catholic Education, participants were shown a video in which His Holiness encourages Catholic universities to consolidate their position on safe grounds, but always to be bold to venture forth into the new. Pope Francis’s inducement echoed a passage from Blessed John Henry Cardinal NEWMAN’s The Idea of a University (1852):
If then a University is a direct preparation for this world, let it be what it professes. It is not a Convent, it is not a Seminary; it is a place to fit men of the world for the world. We cannot possibly keep them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and maxims, when their time comes; but we can prepare them against what is inevitable; and it is not the way to learn to swim in troubled waters, never to have gone into them.
Prof ABRAHAM returned from Rome emboldened to promote the vision of St Augustine to ‘produce graduates who have learnt to think rigorously, so as to act rightly, and to serve humanity better.’