Believe in the Future

Believe in the FutureZach Flanagin sees the future of Catholic higher education as both exciting and uncertain. A young father of two, active in his parish and married to a Presbyterian minister, the chair of Saint Mary’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies is what President Jim Donahue calls the modern Catholic. He represents the spirited future of Saint Mary’s College.

In a panel discussion on the topic, Donahue said that at its core, Catholic higher education must be a spiritual practice. But “to talk about educating the whole person and Catholic values doesn’t tell me too much. How will Catholic higher education really make a difference?”

Dialogue will help make the difference, Flanagin said. “At its best, the Catholic tradition has been able to bring its theology, its rituals, its richness into dialogue with what is human in every generation. At its worst, we have been scared of what’s human in a particular generation and have run away from it and often closed ourselves up into this static box.”

Flanagin cites Pope Francis as someone who is trying to push us to put tradition into dialogue with the world as we’ve come to know it.

“It’s not necessarily an ‘anything goes’ inclusivity,” he said, “but it’s an openness to have conversations with the way the world’s changing and with new voices that we didn’t ever hear—even if they were always there.”

Saint Mary’s is ready to look at what’s happening in the world with “critical, analytic eyes,” Flanagin said. “It’s what a Catholic university does. It’s the place where different voices can be heard in an intentional dialogue.”

The great excitement of being Catholic, Flanagin said, acknowledging that it’s a little scary, “is what’s going to be next? What’s going to be the new conversation?”

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