Part I: A higher grounding
Second of three parts
YPSILANTI, Mich. — The new face of Roman Catholic higher education looks like Sean McNally, who is majoring in European history and literature at tiny Ave Maria College here.
Mr. McNally, 19, lives in Gabriel Hall, a residence for young men considering the priesthood. He regards himself as far more conservative than most of his elders.
“I went to a Catholic high school where I had to defend my faith to my professors,” he says. “My principal was a lesbian living with her partner, and the priest [at the school] was a lunatic.”
And that new face of Catholic colleges also looks like Arwen Mosher, 20, who after two years at the University of Michigan gave up a $6,000 engineering scholarship to take up theology studies at Ave Maria in January.
Not the most typical student — she married at 19 rather than cohabit with her boyfriend — she chose Ave Maria after checking out the University of Notre Dame.
“The students I stayed with didn’t even believe in God,” Mrs. Mosher says of Notre Dame. “There was a hostility to Catholicism.”
At Michigan, she adds, “the faculty actively push students away from anything related to God and objective truth.”
Conservative Catholic schools, along with evangelical Protestant colleges, are flourishing amid a U.S. enrollment surge as more baby boomers opt for values-based higher education for their children.
Increasing numbers of parents among the nation’s 63 million Catholics are turning their backs on the traditional powerhouse Catholic universities. They are gravitating toward a new breed of college that aims to attract students who place God’s truth, moral absolutes and loyalty to Pope John Paul II above parties, sexual hookups and winning football programs.
The trend has not gone unnoticed among orthodox Catholic groups with the wherewithal to found their own schools. All five Catholic colleges that opened in the past five years, or are set to do so by next year, are quite conservative, says Michael James, associate executive director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU).