Curriculum Reform for Catholic Colleges


Ed O’Rourke

The University of Saint Thomas (UST) in Houston, Texas is taking a hard look at its current curriculum.  Since this planet is witnessing the Sixth Great Extinction, my recommendation is to concentrate on healing this world by environmental restoration and structuring our accounting, taxes, political, social and economic spheres to live well and get out of our fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway, war, poverty economy that requires 2.4 billion of the world’s citizens to live in poverty.

Some of the oldest cultural values such as “be fruitful and multiply” are no longer useful and are now destructive.  Another habit to throw overboard is war.  General Douglas MacArthur in his famous 1951 speech in the US Congress stated in no uncertain terms that mankind must abolish war or war would abolish mankind.  Pope Paul VI made called for an end to war at the United Nations in 1965.

Professor will still talk about Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Voltaire, and leading philosophers that shape the way we think.  In the future, they must study people, not necessarily considered philosophers, to derive values and strategies that point the way to spiritual and environmental restoration.  One candidate for inclusion in the new curriculum is Plan 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.  Among many far-reaching ideas, he advocates investing $190 billion per year in poor countries to bring about universal primary education, adult literacy, universal basic health care, planting trees to reduce flooding, protecting topsoil, restoring fisheries, protecting biological diversity and stabilizing water tables.  Hopefully all educational institutions will pursue this survival path that leads to a world filled with social justice.

Catholic institutions have other changes to make.  I will give my background to set the context of the next recommendation.  I was born and grew up in Houston, Texas.  I graduated from Saint Thomas High School and spent my freshman year at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.  I started preparation for the priesthood at Saint Basil’s Novitiate in Pontiac, Michigan in August, 1963.  Within a month, the realization hit me that all my Catholic education to the time I entered the novitiate was superficial, certainly correct but lacking depth.  My feeling was that everyone could be a mystic or close to it.  The famous theologian Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange felt that the mystical life is a normal way of seeking Christian perfection.  I stayed with the Basilian Order for another two years at the University of Saint Thomas which was not enough time to develop the idea.  In May, 1966, I left the Basilians and only in recent years have visited the mysticism theme again.

In the 1960s, the name of what I was trying to develop was aesthetic theology.  Nowadays, people call it spirituality.  The closest I have seen in Catholic education was a mysticism class offered by assistant professor Edward Sri at Benedictine College. (He is now at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado.)

When I visit Atchison, I feel differently than I do in almost every other place.  It is a beautiful town with old majestic homes and lots of trees overlooking the Missouri River.  Church, Mass and the sacraments are all good but only a start.

Some of the answer is a drive to mysticism.  Some of the answer is a connection with nature achieved by protecting nature everywhere.  One goal is to arrange the economy to have people work fewer hours per week at decent pay.  Something is achieved by clean water, clean air and uncontaminated soil.

UST must consider reform for the entire church.  The Catholic Church must abandon discrimination against women. The idea that there are seven sacraments for men and six for women no longer passes muster.  There are several arguments for a male only clergy.  One is that we have always done it that way.  Other old institutions and customs have dropped by the wayside – monarchy, human sacrifice, slavery, colonial empires, judicial torture and the Soviet Union.  The idea that some practice must continue because it has been around for a long time is not good enough.

Others point out that the apostles were all male.  Carried out to a logical conclusion of this argument, the church would only ordain converted Palestinian Jews.

Also, ordain married people.  The church did all right in the first millennium with a married clergy.  The church will do well to repeat this practice in the third millennium to avoid putting priests on the endangered species list.

May the University of Saint Thomas and other Catholic educational institutions have the courage to push beyond the usual comfort zone to achieve great things for the planet and the church.

Ed O’Rourke