- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Catholic University of America has entered an era in which church doctrine is central to every aspect of the school’s mission — from educational offerings to dormitory assignments — with some faculty calling the new age a “renaissance.”

Far from being the country’s largest Catholic institution of higher learning, the university, situated in Northeast Washington, is striving to be one of the church’s most influential with its effort to apply its founding principles throughout academic and student life.

Case in point: The Catholic University has opened the Busch School of Business & Economics, which aims to crank out business degrees and to integrate the best of Catholic theology and philosophy with the best of economic and management theory.

The Busch Family Foundation is the lead donor of a $47 million gift announced this year for operational needs of the business school, including the renovation of Maloney Hall, where the institution will have headquarters. The Charles Koch Foundation also contributed $10 million.

The school is named for Steph and Tim Busch. Mr. Busch, founder and CEO of Pacific Hospitality Group and The Busch Firm, said Catholic social teaching and free enterprise go hand in hand when it comes to alleviating poverty and creating a society in which humans flourish.

“Through principled entrepreneurship, we come to understand that the gifts that God has given — and we all have different gifts — are to be used for the benefit of others,” Mr. Busch said in a speech at The Catholic University last week. “In so doing, we co-create with God goodness for others, our families, our clients, and our communities.”

Yet many Catholics see tension between the faith and free markets. Pope Francis has criticized capitalism for contributing to income inequality, the destruction of the environment and a pernicious materialistic worldview.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality,” Francis said in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium.” “Such an economy kills.”

Mr. Busch pointed out that the church also staunchly opposed socialism and communism throughout the 20th century. He said Catholic opponents and proponents of free markets are trying to get to the same place but disagree about how to get there.

“The question is not whether we should help the less fortunate, but how to go about doing it,” Mr. Busch said. “In the long run, redistribution and handouts do not work but rather lead to corruption, entitlement and reliance.”

Jay Richards, an assistant research professor of business at The Catholic University, said untangling the complicated relationship between the church and the marketplace is one of the primary purposes of the Busch School. He said Catholic social teaching holds the potential to curb the market’s excesses, maximizing efficiency without sacrificing morality.

“You need genuine virtue in the marketplace,” Mr. Richards said. “That doesn’t mean ignoring what we know about economics; it means integrating what we know about economics with a virtuous approach. In some ways, it’s a work in progress, and that is one of the things that is so exciting, what is exciting for me to be here.”

To that end, students at the Busch School will be required to take half of their courses in the humanities, including philosophy and theology.

“That really resonated with me,” Mr. Busch told The Washington Times. “I think we did not educate the business people of today, and I think 25 years from now, we’re going to have a better, more prosperous society because we will have educated the business students, hopefully in the humanities.”

The expansion of the business school is part of a broader revival at The Catholic University spearheaded by President John Garvey. Shortly after taking office in 2011, Mr. Garvey issued a strategic plan for the university, the first goal of which was to “promote the distinctive Catholic culture of the university.”

The plan manifested itself most prominently in the erasure of coed dorms at The Catholic University. That move drew criticism from some in the higher-education world, including a discrimination lawsuit from a professor at nearby George Washington University.

At a time when Catholic universities are increasingly becoming indistinguishable from their secular counterparts, Mr. Busch said, The Catholic University’s fidelity to first principles got his attention.

“You know, President Garvey has been a delightful surprise,” Mr. Busch said. “He has really been a strong leader, when many other Catholic university presidents have been bowing and genuflecting to the secular movement to get ratings for their university, to be part of the fraternity of universities.”

Indeed, a faith revival is not necessarily the best way to bolster a university’s ranking.

Founded in 1887, the university of 3,480 undergraduates places 124th among national universities, according to U.S. News & World Report’s latest college guide. CollegeChoice.com ranks The Catholic University 61st among Catholic higher-education institutions.

Mr. Richards said The Catholic University is not preoccupied with gaining the approval of the secular world, especially if it means forfeiting the school’s soul.

But he said the expansion of the business school and other recent initiatives on campus are “vindication” that the university is on the right track.

“It’s just very exciting to be present at a time in which the school is, in many ways I think, coming into its own,” he said. “I think we’re just now entering the sort of renaissance stage of its existence.”

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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