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Contending with ModernityCatholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century$
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Philip Gleason

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780195098280

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195098280.001.0001

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Rationalizing the Catholic System

Rationalizing the Catholic System

(p.39) Chapter 2 Rationalizing the Catholic System
Contending with Modernity

Philip Gleason

Oxford University Press

Catholic colleges reacted as individual institutions to the turn-of-the-century challenge, but there was also a collective dimension to their response. It is most directly observable in the activities of the Catholic Educational Association (CEA) and in self-studies undertaken by the Jesuits. It is also extremely revealing, for here we can observe Catholic educators taking counsel together, informing themselves of current developments, and forging the conceptual and organizational tools they needed to bring their institutions more nearly into line with ongoing developments in American higher education. We shall look first at the CEA, but to appreciate its significance we must begin by reviewing the reasons for the fragmentation that put Austin O’Malley in mind of a boiler explosion, and caused Bishop John Lancaster Spalding to exclaim: “We Catholics are united in the faith, but are infinitely disunited in almost everything else. The Lord have mercy on us! We want some point of union.” The disunity that plagued Catholic educators as the new century opened did not arise from ethnic diversity or ideological cleavages, although both were significant features of the larger Catholic scene. Their basic problem was structural, and its key element was the existence in Catholic education of two overlapping, but largely autonomous, chains of command: the episcopal, centered in the bishop of the diocese (known technically as the “ordinary”); and that of the religious community. Reinforcing the disjunctive tendency inherent in this parallel authority structure was an ecclesiastical localism that left each ordinary without effective supervision from higher authority, and made each religious community a kind of realm unto itself. A cursory sketch of the Catholic educational scene will suggest why these circumstances made it so difficult to coordinate all the elements involved. Catholic elementary education was carried on under the authority and supervision of the bishops, but the parochial schools—of which there were in 1900 about 3800, enrolling upwards of 900,000 students—were staffed almost exclusively by nuns. A community of teaching sisters (and there were scores of them) might or might not be under the direct ecclesiastical authority of the bishop.

Keywords:   Articulation, Boston College, Christian Brothers, Dominicans, Entrance requirements, Geography, Harvard University, Languages, Mathematics

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