Address of Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach to the The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Catholic University of the North

Allow me first to thank the Grand Chancellor and the Rector of the Catholic University of the North for the honor and privilege of addressing the academic community on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its foundation. In 1956 my brother Jesuits of the College of St. Aloysius had the initiative of establishing a college in Antofagasta, helped by some lay people, one of whom was Mrs. Berta Gonzalez, widow of Astorga, the principal and most generous benefactress of the new academic institution. The Jesuits were not alone… Upon their invitation, many religious men and women, priests and lay, rallied around from the early years, to lend a hand to the new foundation which certainly benefited greatly from such indispensable support. The young university, since the recognition of its autonomy by the Chilean Government in 1974 has not ceased growing in the attainment of its intended objectives in areas scientific as well as technical.

A point I would like to discuss at great length is the decision taken in the year 1990 to add to the original title: University of the North, the word Catholic to indicate and show the university’s intention to live the ethical and human values of the Catholic Faith, since it wished to be identified as a Catholic University of renown, conscious of its social responsibilities. The Catholic University of the North has indeed exerted great effort in updating its program of studies, its pedagogical strategies, introducing new instructional techniques centered on apprenticeship {learning by doing}. It has shown intense interest in improving the formation of students. Besides this, it has given aid to students in the form of scholarships, given excellent attention to their health needs and provided library services and computer facilities. It has furthermore, an institutional policy of developing its research efforts resulting successfully in investigations of issues of national and international interest. The University’s confessional character gives a very special emphasis on the {cultivation} practice of Christian values in all strata of society and helps in giving certain direction to the community’s various services in favor of the poorer sectors.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the Catholic Church believes profoundly in the specific identity of a university that is inspired by its catholicity. It is true the Second Vatican Council did not discuss explicitly the catholic universities. The year 1978 and the troubled years that followed, shook to its very foundation the universities almost all over the world. It was then that the Holy See started its reflection on the Catholic character of a university. Today, the more than one thousand three hundred catholic universities of the world have at their disposal the Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae”, which upholds their existence and which should certainly be given prominence. What then was the vision of the late John Paul II of a university like the Catholic University of the North?

There is one principal point which strongly attracts attention in the reading of the Apostolic Constitution and it is the enormous importance attributed by Pope John Paul II to catholic universities.

There are repeated expressions that leave no doubt about this importance. “Indispensable mission” (n.11), “irreplaceable task” (10), “mission evermore necessary” (10), words eminently expressive of the importance of catholic universities, according to the very words of the Pope. This importance was formulated by the Pope not only objectively being derived from the very nature of things, but comes concretely supported by his personal conviction, which, at least twice, he inequivocably expressed. These expressions and avowals of the Pope enable us to understand, in themselves surprising, those first words of the Constitution, which gives it its title, words chosen with utmost care, words in which the catholic university is presented as “born from the heart of the Church”. There is therefore no doubt whatsoever about the exceptional importance given by the Holy Father to the catholic universities. If, sometimes, there had been questions raised within catholic circles over the reason for existence of catholic universities these days, the official response of the Church to such questions is emphatic and unmistakable: The catholic universities have today an indispensable and irreplaceable mission in the Church and their tasks are more than ever urgent and necessary; the catholic university springs from the very heart of the Church.

This conviction should give those who have some responsibility in the university the inspiration to spend their lives to a work that is truly transcendental and from which they draw the necessary energy to constantly undertake their grave and demanding responsibility.

Seeing the impact of the rather strong formulation of the importance of Catholic universities comes now the question of the “why” of the same.

The whole Apostolic Constitution is a response to such a fundamental question. The entire document is in effect an answer to the questions on the identity and the mission of the Catholic University – what it is, what it does, and what it is called to do, and to give special witness through its daily life to that identity and mission. Let us recall briefly the thoughts of the Holy Father on these fundamental points.

What the Catholic University is: Its Identity

As an institution, a Catholic University is, in the first place, a University. Citing the “Magna Carta of the European Universities” signed in Bolonia in September 1988, a university is an academic community ,which in a rigorous and extremely careful manner, contributes to the preserving and fostering of human dignity and of cultural heritage through research, instruction and the offering of various services to communities local, national, and international. The Constitution accepts completely this primary and basic reality of a university in all its meaning. And consequences: The Catholic University is primarily a University. This clearly defined concept of a university is the basis of the whole discussion of the Constitution. Significant proof of this is the immediate recognition of the institutional autonomy in the management of the Catholic University and the academic freedom of all its members.

Having understood what a university is, what then does the catholic character of the university mean? According to the Constitution, it means that a Catholic University by institutional commitment incorporates also in its task the inspiration and the light of the Christian message. Thus in such a university, the ideals, the attitudes and catholic principles permeate and animate the activities of the university depending upon the nature and uniqueness of such activities. {no.14}

From this, stems the basic institutional commitment of a catholic university, her “honor and responsibility”, of “consecrating herself without reserve to the cause of the truth”, to the search of all aspects of the truth in their essential relationships with the Supreme Truth which is God.” (n.4) And thus, as a Catholic University, like all universities, but in accordance with its specific catholic character, and impelled by it, pursues the search for the full meaning of reality and particularly, the meaning of man himself.

And thus the Catholic University, as a university, should consider as constitutive element of its institutional obligation the following: the progressive attainment of integrated knowledge in an evermore comprehensive and enlightened synthesis which leads to the advancement of knowledge and understanding of reality; the dialogue between faith and reason, which shows that both are found in the knowledge of one and same truth; an ethical concern which includes in its investigation the moral, spiritual, and religious dimension of problems, appreciating the discoveries of science and technology in the total perspective of the human person; finally, a theological perspective, which helps the other disciplines in recognizing and appreciating their own discoveries, in the panorama of knowledge, for the good of the human person.

This fundamental aspect of the Catholic University appears, on the one hand, very attractive, but on the other, fought with serious difficulties. It is attractive, because it responds to the natural and insatiable hunger of man for truth and full of difficulties, because of the efforts that must be expended, in order to, on the one hand, adhere with great fidelity to the methological rigors of the various disciplines that are required in knowing and understanding reality, and on the other, to employ in the same task, with no less fidelity, and without distorting and deforming it, the ethical and theological perspectives embedded in the same reality and which can be discovered by the light that the Christian faith provides. That is why the Catholic University which the Apostolic Constitution has initially envision, more than a reality that has already been accomplished, much less perfected, will always be a challenge that must be met and a job that must be continuously realized.

After having expounded on the basic institutional aspect of what a catholic university is (the nature of identity), the Constitution now goes into a discussion of the university as a “university community”. In succinct words, it tells us that the source of the unity of that community,- of teachers, students, officials and administrative personnel-, inspired by the spirit of Christ, springs from their common consecration to the truth, their identical vision of the dignity of man and finally of the person and the message of Christ, which gives to the institution its distinctive character; it speaks of the spirit of freedom and of charity which should animate such a community, of mutual respect, of sincere dialogue and the respect for the rights of each one, and finally, the responsibility that each one should have in the decisions that affect that same community and in the maintaining of the catholic character of the institution.

Here once again, is the ideal vision, which each catholic university should aspire to realize, as a challenge that it must face constantly, and a task that is never completely finished.

Finally, as a last distinctive mark characteristic of a catholic university, is the special relationship that it should have with the Church. This was one of the most debated points, perhaps the most debated of all, in the formulation of the Constitution. In the end, they came out with words that were sober, balanced, and positively favorable to the universities, in which were underlined the duties of the bishops in promoting and assisting in the maintenance and strengthening of the university’s identity in the face of challenges from civil authorities {n.28} and by inviting the whole ecclesial community, to help and assist them in their development and renewal, to preserve their rights and freedom in civil society, to offer them financial help, to contribute in putting up new catholic universities where they are needed.

In order that such relationship may thrive and develop harmoniously and in a manner favorable both to the Church and the universities, it exhorts that between them and the bishops, there should exist and they should maintain “relationships that are intimate, personal and pastoral characterized by mutual understanding, consistent collaboration, and continuous dialogue” {n.28}. The exhortation could not have been more reasonable and its fulfillment, faithful and generous and certainly beneficial to both parties.

From another point, the relationship of the catholic university with the church, does not consist only in its fidelity to the Christian message and in acknowledging the authority of the magisterium, this relationship is much, much richer, specially when we recall the great importance attributed by the Constitution to the catholic universities and as we shall soon appreciate when we deal with their mission.

What the Catholic University does: Its Mission

It is interesting to note from the very start, that the Constitution refers to the mission of the catholic university as “a mission of service”.

The mission or what the catholic university does, is described by the Constitution first by a brief reference to what is its fundamental mission and later, by reference in more detail to the services which it renders to the church and the society where it its inserted. The fundamental mission of the catholic university “is the constant search for truth by means of research and the communication of knowledge, contributing its specific characteristics and unique objectives.
This fundamental mission in its realization is concretized in a variety of services to the church and to society. Here are some of them.

First, the formation of men and women capable not only of living maturely and consistent with their personal vocation, but also to give signal service to the church and society.

Moreover, the catholic university, “immersed in human society”, like any other university, is called upon to be an effective instrument in the advancement of culture of man as well as of the whole community. Thus, its research activities should include the study of serious contemporary problems, like for instance, the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal life and of the family, the protection of the environment, the search for peace and political stability, the more equitable distribution of resources of the earth, and a new economic and political order that serves the human community in the national and international level.” {n.32} It is of great interest to recall here the explicit pronouncement of the Constitution in this context, which says literally: “If it is necessary, the catholic university should have the courage to express uncomfortable truths, truths that are not popular with public opinion, but which are necessary to safeguard the genuine welfare of society.” {Ibid}

All these activities of a catholic university are conducted in an open and extensive dialogue, where the privileged speakers would be the academic world, cultural and scientific, in the region where it operates, with what the actual culture of the moment is and what it signifies, and with the modern natural and human sciences. In this way, the catholic university would help society to understand and resolve its own problems, which are actually in play, not only for its welfare and progress, but also understand “the meaning itself of man”. Likewise it will also help the church in its tremendous task, urgently needed in the postmodern era, of introducing the Gospel, with truth and competence, into the vital fabric of culture and of human cultures of the moment, as an essential ferment for their transformation for the greater good of man and of society.

Here too, and not just for the sake of insistence or symmetry of ideas, we also see an ideal picture, which at the same time that it directs the catholic university to develop its activities, it is constantly challenged to improve and even surpass itself. Here once again, from the point of view of its mission, the catholic university is presented as a continuing task, never completed.

Very likely for this reason, for the reason that the job of a catholic university is one that is never accomplished and a task that is open-ended, the Apostolic Constitution sounds a call that is vigorous, confident and inspiring, to a renewal. “In this context, the catholic universities are called to constant renewal both by a university and by being catholic.” {n.7}; a renewal that extends to the future, which requires courageous creativity couples with rigorous fidelity.” {n.8}

Here in summary, are the essential points of the thinking of Pope John Paul II on the importance, the identity and the mission of the catholic universities.

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Thus, it is renewal, both by virtue of its being a university and by being catholic; a projection towards the future, courageous creativity, rigorous fidelity… What does all this mean to the Catholic University of the North looking towards its future from the vantage point of its first fifty years?

It is a question that must be answered primarily by all of you, the members of the university community and collaborators in the maintenance and development of the university. To help you in this, I would like to share with you briefly some reflections on the nature and mission of catholic universities drawn from the tradition of Jesuit universities. It would not be difficult for you, I hope, to see a full agreement between them and those contained in the Apostolic Constitution which we have just considered.

If we are convinced of the importance of our work, and of its profound significance for the understanding of the nature of man, of society, and of history, and for its dignity, we shall, spare no effort in promoting incessantly the excellence of the university. A mediocre university cannot, in any manner, attain the objectives proper to it. We know the parameters of that excellence. Before everything, a university is an institution with a truly global perspective, where the teaching is continually updated as a result of a rigid and uncompromising investigation (research). A program of studies that truly responds to the latest advances of each discipline, and which, together, give a view of the present and answer the real needs of society. A teaching force that is adequate, competent and dedicated to work with joy and devotion in the university, as if it were its own, a faculty that engages in worthwhile research activities and develops a teaching methodology that is alive and appropriate. It has a pool of resources sufficient to support all the above, and in all cases, a rational and strict use of those that have priority over all the other important objectives of the university.

But this university is not a university with nothing else; it seeks to be a university that makes the Christian message institutionally present in it as an animating and inspiring principle of all its activity. It obliges her to function with a broad view of the interrelationships of all knowledge, transcending the prejudices of each discipline without violating methodological rules and without falling into a deforming relativism, for the better understanding of the full meaning of man, of culture and of history.

Here the university could find a distinctive trait of its work, required by its very nature, which defines it and which would give her a profile uniquely her own among all the other universities in the area…

For the same reason, the university should strengthen its concern for ethical problems and the ethical aspects of all problems that she encounters, and which, although it embraces it, it means more than just juxtaposing to programs a discipline that deals with the corresponding concept. It means discovering and explaining the relationships which the theoretical and practical sciences have with the human person, and, consequently, modify profoundly, the world view and orientation of each discipline. Let it serve as an explanatory example of what I want to express, that which I had said some years ago to the rectors and presidents of Jesuit universities gathered in Rome. The “Economy”, which has its own methods and principles, if it is taught and studied from the perspective of the promotion of justice, cannot be limited to an economy that deals exclusively with “things” but should also take into account interpersonal relationships. In this perspective, the Economy would look at material goods as instruments for the service of man. In the same manner, all other sciences and technologies, when they are taught and studied with the view to the promotion of justice, should be deeply aware that all investigations should promote ultimately the dignity of the human person.

It is clear that a holistic and interdisciplinary view of problems as well as the concern for their ethical implications can only be perceived and appropriated by a faculty properly prepared for it… indeed a task, – this preparation – which gets translated into a primary commitment to the University.

In his instructions to educational institutions, St. Ignatius of Loyola was also concerned with the personal aspects of the community of teachers, students and “officers or administrators of the university”, of the duties and responsibilities of each class, and the relationships among them. This fact emphasizes the importance it has for him, the group of people that make up the university, the university community, and the personal attention for every member. The quality of the climate of the university and of the interpersonal relationships in the community, as well as the attention and importance given to each person could be another characteristic quality of this university, that would distinguish it from other similar institutions; this would also be the climate to freely participate and collaborate, for every member of the same community, in accordance with the commitment of each one to the attainment of the objective.

Finally, there is the element of the Ignatian Spirituality, and the manner of actualizing it, which, although it is not a specific educational task can have very beneficial consequences. It is called discernment, or in words less precise, “the reflection that illumines action”. Frequently, – at least from the outside – looking at the life of a university, one gets the impression that teaching and research are the nucleus of the enterprise, and anything that implies reflection on the running and future of the institution, to evaluate and improve it, is merely a decoration, an extra work, that can be put aside for lack of time, of motive and of energy. But without this evaluation, this renewal and planning for the future revitalizing the very blood of the university, the essence of its work is dissipated and it ends up converting itself into a diploma mill. Without this work, which presupposes dedication and “waste” of time, on the part of those charged with managerial functions, and also, in the same measure, on all those responsible for the running of the university, it would be impossible to realize, with the necessary relevance and quality, the ideal of a catholic university that is capable of playing its designated role.

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Many more things could be mentioned. But if, at least, all the above were performed with vigor and insistence in this university, you would be in a better condition to render quality service to the Church and the society which expects it.

At this moment, a great opportunity is being offered to you. Not just because of the fact that the celebration of the fifty years of the university brings into view its future, but also because it is a moment when the Church, through the voice of the Holy Father, calls us to a radical renewal, realized with “courageous creativity and at the same time, rigid fidelity”, which should make us “better able to respond to the task of bringing the message of Christ to man, to society and to all cultures”. It is, furthermore, a moment of singular meaning within the scope of all universities called upon in their turn, to effect a real change in their programs and their activities, which should answer the exigencies of a society at the start of the 21st century.

Let these simple reflections, then, be my modest contribution to the celebration of the fiftieth year of the university, together with my encouragement in this work of renewal and my sure support for its realization. Thank you very much.