Category: Archive

A case for Catholic education

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The 53-year-old McShane will become Fordham University’s 32nd president. He praised the tenure of his predecessor, the Rev. Joseph O’Hare, S.J, whom he called a hard act to follow, and proceded to outline his own plans for the prestigious university, which has educated the children of generations of Irish immigrants.
McShane, whose grandparents were from Armagh and Tipperary, grew up in a family of four boys. It is hard to imagine this small, wiry man, so full of energy, being nervous. He is articulate and thoughtful and has the knack of discussing issues with what seems like a fresh and unpracticed approach.
Last week, from the comfortable surroundings of his office as president of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, McShane discussed some ideas close to his heart.
“Is there a need for Catholic education in the states?” he mused. “It is a question we wrestle with all the time, but my answer is yes. The Catholic nature of the institutions shows up in a number of ways.”
First, he said, the core curriculum will always have a place for the study of philosophy and theology, which is not always the case at secular universities. And second, that there would be a strong campus ministry. He elaborated, describing the ministry as being more than merely sacramental. It would include a full schedule of Masses during the week and weekends.
Ideally, it would also have retreat programs and strong service programs, where students are encouraged to work with the poor and learn from them. It encourages students to think about poverty and what it means today.
McShane made a reference to the students at Scranton, who contributed 150,000 hours to the community service last year as part of the voluntary service program. “The community service they do is linked to a process of reflection,” he said.
“The idea behind these programs is that students are part of a difference,” he said. “A Catholic institution can address issues that other places can’t. We can dive into questions without apology because that is our function.”
McShane implied that other institutions are wary of offending sensibilities, something that does not intimidate the Jesuits.
McShane is clear about the place for a religious institution in education. When questioned about reconciling traditional church teachings with scientific developments, he sees no conflict.
“I think Pope John Paul II has been helpful in reaching out and trying to heal the breach that existed between the worlds of church and science,” he said. “If you pushed a Catholic intellectual, they would probably tell you that the central insight gleaned from the book of Genesis is that we were created by a loving being; how that actually happened is irrelevant.”
McShane entered the Society of Jesus in 1967 after attending Regis High School in Manhattan. He went on to Boston College in 1971 and studied English and philosophy, receiving a master’s degree in English a year later. He went on to study at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and was ordained a priest in 1977.
In 1981, he received a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago and went on to serve as a member of the religious studies faculty at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., from 1982 until 1992, becoming chair of the department in 1991.
During McShane’s five-year tenure as president of the University of Scranton, academic and residential facilities were enhanced significantly. In the last two years alone, students have received 20 prestigious fellowships, including eight Fulbrights, a Truman Scholarship and four Freeman Awards.
He has longstanding associations with Fordham University. In fact, 74 years ago, his father enrolled as a student. His three brothers followed and he eventually joined the Fordham family in 1987 when he was appointed to the Board of Trustees. He served until 1992, when he was named dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill.
McShane comes across as someone whose confident grasp of the important issues encourages discussion. He is not afraid of challenges to his beliefs.
His hope for Fordham University is that its reputation for excellence keeps improving and that it receives the national recognition that it rightly deserves.
“I plan to listen to the community, to engage them in discussion about the areas we need to focus on, what we need to nurture,” he said.
The chaplain of Fordham University, Gerry Blaszczak, entered the order on the same day at the same hour as McShane. He believes McShane was destined for the job.
“I think it would have been hard not to recognize his tremendous leadership qualities,” he said. “He was an obvious candidate for the job.”
Blaszczak looks forward to working with McShane. “He is very committed to the intellectual mission of the university and he has a very hands-on style,” he said. “There is nothing he likes more than to roam around campus, greeting people by name. He is congenial, warm, a legendary hard worker and, importantly, has remained ever the priest.”
McShane aims to provide as broad an education as possible within the remit of church teachings and to that end tries to strike a balance with people who believe that Catholic Universities are not religious enough.
He is familiar with the views of Dominoes Pizza founder, Tom Monaghan, who is founding his own university, Ave Maria, in Florida. Monaghan is well known as a conservative and devout Catholic who sold his multi-million-dollar business to help fund Catholic and pro-life causes.
McShane talked about Monaghan as a generous man while making it clear that they have very different views. “I think his vision of a Catholic university is only one way of looking at it,” McShane said. “Jesuit universities are called to a challenge, to be more inclusive and more engaged than Mr. Monaghan would like.
“There is an intellectual curiosity in Jesuit institutions, an eagerness to engage with the world. To hold back would be a betrayal of the incarnation. We have a duty to look at the world and it’s troubles.”
McShane is an enthusiastic expounder of the Jesuit way of looking at life. “We always like to be in the thick of things; that can get us into trouble,” he said in a resigned manner.
One area in which the Jesuits are not willing to make waves is the provision of contraception and information on sexually transmitted diseases, which are staple services in most secular universities.
McShane said: “We don’t do that. I don’t think there is a need for us to supply. Our students are savvy, they can walk a few blocks off campus to get the help or information they need.”
He added that while they did not want to be out of step with the Vatican, they did want to help teach whatever was important. “I don’t think that society necessarily gives young people a very rounded view of sexuality in the world today,” he said. “I hope there will be a forum in Fordham for discussion. In a university, there is a necessity to explore these things.”
The forum for discussion is one of the reasons why McShane believes Catholic universities have emerged from the ongoing church scandals relatively unscathed.
“There is respect for the universities because they talked about the issues,” McShane said. “For example, Boston University helped a lot, which was one way of saying, the people of Boston want to help sort this out.”
McShane said that while he does not differentiate between Catholic universities and Jesuit institutions, he believes that Jesuits take very seriously their mission to educate people.
“Many colleges started off educating the children of immigrants, we still do that,” he said. “Also, we make important contributions to dialogue and bring to the table a certain way of looking at things.”
McShane describes that special way of seeing the world as being bothered by things, to never let oneself become complacent. He added, “The students are pushed to be as aware and as passionate about the affairs of the world as the ideal Christian.”

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