In an April 5 lecture, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller placed the Catholic Church at the heart of higher education, saying it has made a distinctive contribution to the academy's search for truth for more than eight centuries.
"The church and the university belong together," Archbishop Miller told the LeFevre Theatre audience of professors, students and Brothers. "The academy is our natural home."
Prior to his appointment in Canada, Miller served as the Vatican's secretary for the congregation of Catholic education from 2004 to 2007, overseeing Catholic seminaries, universities and colleges. His remarks were part of the Episcopal Lecture series sponsored by the College's Bishop Cummins Institute and Henning Institute.
The archbishop pointed to Europe's first universities at Bologna and Paris in the Middle Ages as "great centers of learning and genuinely Catholic institutions."
In the contemporary academic environment, he believes Catholic colleges and universities can provide an education that offers a synthesis of faith and reason rather than insisting they inhabit separate spheres.
"Knowledge through faith and knowledge through reason are both valid, even if they're not identical," he explained.
This synthesis of faith and reason, Miller said, is part of "what makes Saint Mary's and other institutions in the Bay Area different from UCLA, Stanford or Pepperdine."
He also commended Catholic institutions for their conviction about the possibility of finding truth, arguing that this stands in contrast to a "dogma of relativism" in the modern academy.
"We can no longer take the quest for truth at universities for granted - seeking truth is often considered hopelessly impossible," Miller said. "Catholic universities have a responsibility to show that truth can be sought after, and - to a limited extent - attained and communicated to others."
Miller said that the Catholic educational tradition's conviction that knowledge can be integrated stands in contrast to academic specialization that has characterized much of higher education since the 19th century.
"What has happened is that the college curriculum is balkanized into specialties," he said. "But the raison d'etre of Catholic universities is integrating knowledge."
Before the public address, Archbishop Miller, Brother President Ronald Gallagher and former Brother President Mel Anderson led seminar discussions about John Paul II's 1990 Ex corde Ecclesiae on Catholic colleges and universities.
During the next academic year, the Cummins Institute will organize two more bishops' lectures and a summit for Catholic university presidents.
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Photos by Gorbachev Lingad '10