Foundations of Xavier University's Catholic Identity

Edited by
Debra Mooney, Ph.D.
Xavier University
What is the mission of Xavier as a Catholic university?
[The] primary mission is the education and formation of our students for the sake of the kind of persons they become and their wide influence for good in society in their lives, professions, and service... We carry out this university education through highly qualified professors and colleagues acting with academic freedom for the sake of the full pursuit of the truth and the students free attainment of knowledge and values ( The Jesuit Catholic Mission of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Association of Jesuit College and Universities, 2010, p. 4).

What are the essential characteristics of a Catholic university?

In an apostolic constitution issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church) defines the catholicism of Catholic institutions of higher education through their shared values, identity, and mission; it states:

Since the objective of a Catholic university is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture, every Catholic university, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:

A Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;
A continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;
Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;
An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life." (nn 13)

[Catholic universities] do many things which are essential for the Catholic Church to do: educating and forming an adult Catholic laity, continuing to educate first-generation Catholic immigrant populations, developing a dialogue between Church and culture, providing a forum to address important issues of Church and society, making available scholarly and educational resources to the Church, supporting ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, and making contact with and representing the Church to many persons it would not otherwise encounter. (The Jesuit Catholic Mission of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Association of Jesuit College and Universities, 2010, p. 4).

How are the essential characteristics expressed? What are the core values and principles of a Catholic university?

The essential characteristics of a Catholic university can be expressed through its commitment to the Catholic social mission and teaching. The following are core Catholic social values (citations are drawn from Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, 2005, US Conference of Catholic Bishops; see also 10 Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching , William Byron, 1998)

Life and Dignity of the Human Person

The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of [Catholic] social teaching. [The Church also proclaims] that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.


The person is not only sacred but also social. How [our society is organized] -- in economics and politics, in law and policy -- directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. [The tradition asserts that] people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.


The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities--to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

[The Catholic social tradition proclaims that all people] are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers and sisters keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.


The Catholic tradition insists that...[one's ] respect for the Creator [is shown] by stewardship of creation...[All] are called to protect people and the planet, living [faithfully] in relationship with all of God's creation.

To be clear, Catholic Social Teaching is not principally a fixed block of doctrine or received wisdom from the past. Rather, it is a way of reflecting about the world today, viewing it as God's world, entrusted to us, and viewing all others as our brothers and sisters. "Am I my brother's keeper?" asked Cain (Gen 4.9). "Yes," says Catholic Social Teaching, (see Catholic Social Teaching: Faith in a Better World).

What is the Catholic intellectual tradition?

The Catholic intellectual tradition is a 2000 year old dialogue between the Catholic faith and the world. Catholic universities preserve what has been said in that conversation, transmit it as a body of knowledge through our curriculum, and encourage everyone to join in the conversation. (Margaret Palliser, OP).

The CIT can be defined in terms of its content and also its approach to knowledge, to reality. Content includes not just great written works like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dante's Divine Comedy and Teilhard de Chardin's The Human Phenomenon, but also great works of art. The approach to knowledge recognizes the continuity of faith and reason, respects the cumulative wisdom of the past, has an anti-elitist bent, pays attention to how knowledge is used (for good or ill), works toward the integration of knowledge, and operates out of the "sacramental principle" - that all of creation can lead us to the sacred, to God? (Monica Hellwig as interpreted by George Traub, 2012).

Thus, it is through the CIT that Catholic universities address the issues of our times and the intersections of faith and reason. Such that, a university animated by the Catholic intellectual tradition promotes a free, open-ended dialogue between faith and reason, carried on without fear. Over the long history of the tradition, there have been times when this dialogue has been difficult, times when Church teaching and secular scholarly research have stood in tension. During such times, the tradition, at its best, has urged more careful inquiry on both sides, confident that even though there may be momentary collisions, awkward appearances, and many forebodings and prophecies of contrariety, as Cardinal John Henry Newman, the great 19th-century scholar, has put it, the unity of truth will ultimately be seen. (Catholic Intellectual Tradition: A Conversation at Boston College, p 13-14).

What are the foundations of the Catholic faith? (Compiled by Joe Shadle)

The Holy Trinity
The Incarnation
The Paschal Mystery
Sacred Scripture
Sacred Tradition
The Living Magisterium
The Sacraments
Life of Prayer
The Moral Life and Catholic Social Teaching

The Ten Shining Features of the Society of Jesus

Xavier is a Catholic university in the Jesuit tradition; a tradition well known for founding a world-wide network of schools, colleges and universities. In outlining characteristics unique to the Society of Jesus, Cardinal Avery Dulles SJ, writes "Any such list presupposes, of course, the common elements of all religious orders in the Catholic Church, including the faithful observance of the usual vows of religion: poverty, chastity and obedience. The following 10 features may serve as a summary of what is more specific to the spirit of St. Ignatius."

Dedication to the glory of God
Personal love for Jesus Christ
To labor with, in and for the Church
To be at the disposal of the Church, available to labor in any place for the sake of the greater good
Mutual union, Jesuits are parts of a body bound together by a communion of minds and hearts
Preference for spiritual and priestly ministries
Respect for human and natural capacities
Synthesis of the active and contemplative life, "seeking God in all things"

Foundation of XU's Catholic Identity chart/diagram

(A. R. Dulles, What Distinguishes the Jesuits?, America: The National Catholic Weekly, January 15, 2007.)