The Catholic University and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

What is a ‘Catholic’ University?

The Catholic Church played a foundational role in establishing the earliest universities in Europe dating back to the 12th century, and in the United States at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

In “The Idea of a University” (1852), John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote that the University “is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.”

By the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council began asking Catholic Universities to reflect particularly on what it means to be Catholic in the modern world. This question has perhaps become more urgent in recent decades with the decline of vowed clergy and reliance on lay faculty to sustain Catholic institutions.

Contemporary definitions of ‘the Catholic University’ are shaped by the Apostolic Constitition Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “The Heart of the Church,” issued in 1990 by Pope John Paul II, who writes:

“BORN FROM THE HEART of the Church, a Catholic University is located in that course of tradition which may be traced back to the very origin of the University as an institution. It has always been recognized as an incomparable centre of creativity and dissemination of knowledge for the good of humanity.”

“In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative.”
(Ex Corde Ecclesiae A.1.14; emphasis added)

Unlike public institutions of higher education, a Catholic university provides a space where both reason and faith serve the development of the individual.

What is the Catholic Intellectual Tradition?

“. . . the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.”

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition (or CIT) embodies an approach to learning marked by intellectual engagement and critical reflection through dialogue with significant works of the past, in light of issues of the present, in the pursuit of knowledge, truth, and solutions to social problems.

“. . . a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge . . . ”

The CIT has the interdisciplinary inquiry of the liberal arts at its core, in the service of human dignity and the creation of a just society.

Niagara University as a Catholic Institution

Niagara University's Mission

Niagara University is committed to hospitality and inclusivity, respecting the dignity and faith of all. In this way, it lives its Catholic identity in two senses of the word: as a faith-based institution, and as ‘universal,’ the meaning of catholic with a lower case ‘c.’

Niagara University and the CIT

Students engage the methods of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition through the interdisciplinary courses of the General Education program, which integrates courses across the liberal arts. To learn more about the General Education program at NU, visit:

Question for Reflection

In what way(s) might you see your role at Niagara University in supporting or contributing to our commitment to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition? Let Us Know!

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