Harmony between faith and reason is best achieved at Catholic universities when the institution and its local bishop communicate fully, said Christine Wiseman, J.D., provost of Loyola University Chicago.

“It is the bishop’s responsibility to remain vigilant over the institution’s fidelity to its Catholic identity, while respecting the university’s autonomy,” said Wiseman, who delivered the final keynote address at “Faith and Reason: A Dialogue at the Heart of Jesuit Education” on June 18.

Christine Wiseman gave the presentation “Forming Character and Promoting Service in a University Committed to Faith and Reason” in Keating Hall. The panel was moderated by Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., Fordham’s senior vice president/chief academic officer. Photo by Janet Sassi

“The bishop properly exercises his role not as watchdog, but as collaborator, something that is achieved through dialogue,” she explained. “We do this typically by alerting the local bishop to the fact that a forum will occur or a speaker will appear on our campus and explaining the context, lest the bishop be informed only by the outside publicity that attends the event.”

In her career as an administrator at Jesuit universities, there have been several occasions where friction has developed between Wiseman’s institution and the local prelate. She also pointed out several examples of collaboration.

In 2001, Marquette University and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee co-hosted a three-day conference on stem cell research that drew every bishop in Wisconsin.

“Archbishop Rembert Weakland chose to collaborate with a research university because he wanted the bishops to be thoughtfully informed about a topic that would consume public and theological debate well into the next decade,” she said.

“Despite a constant cohort of picketers outside the conference, panelists talked and debated with each other, including those bishops who would define for their universities the parameters of the search for the truth,” she continued.

In a respondent panel that followed Wiseman’s address, Richard Ryscavage, S.J., director of Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life, said the bishops generally want to avoid a heavy-handed approach to Catholic universities.

“The relationship between the local church and the local university is very important, yet few bishops want to interfere in the lives of the universities – they’re just too busy,” Father Ryscavage said.

“But if the bishops are circumscribed by their role in the university, there should be discussion about how universities are circumscribed by catholicity,” he said.

In addition, Father Ryscavage decried the level of learning that Catholic college students possess about their own religion, saying that Jesuit universities must move away from their service focus.

“Since the 1970s, service has become a constituent part of Jesuit secondary education,” he said. “Service is starting to replace faith in the lives of our students; we are becoming a church of good works, founded not on grace or even transcendence.”

The three-day conference was hosted by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture.