Photo courtesy of Xavier University | Staff Writer Benjamin Giles argues that Xavier, as a community, has shied away from Catholicism and must embrace Catholic values.
The following statement is featured prominently in the “About Xavier” section of the university’s website: “Founded in 1831, Xavier is a Jesuit Catholic university located in Cincinnati, Ohio.” When all of us were first looking at coming to school here, this statement or something similar adorned just about everything we saw.
Growing up as a Catholic in Colorado going to a secular high school, I was enthusiastic about coming to a school where Catholicism would be a regular aspect of campus life. Indeed, through the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice and groups like Life After Sunday, Catholicism and other religious beliefs have a real presence on campus. Nonetheless, I have also seen that, on the institutional level, Xavier increasingly shies away from its Catholic identity as if it were an awkward subject or something to be ashamed of.
The recent controversy reharding naming the student section in the Cintas Center “The Holy Land” is only one instance of many where this theme appears. While the concerns raised over the choice were valid, the university’s near-instantaneous reversal and giving away of all the related merchandise raises questions about its relationship to its Catholic affiliation.
On top of that, virtually every major speaker brought to campus this semester has been an LGBT activist of some sort, a distressing trend given the Church’s teaching on chastity and Her understanding of the nature of men and women. Last week, the university held its first annual “Sex Week,” which drew controversy for its #kissmypink slogan. Though organizers have clarified that the slogan is not meant to relate to the lipstick brand whose proceeds go to Planned Parenthood, the event has raised the question of how sexual matters are treated by the university.
To be clear, these are conversations that need to be had. Sexual assault is a real issue, and perhaps more sex education on campus is called for in response to it. Further, we ought to promote intellectual diversity, and LGBTQ+ activists should be invited to make their case.
Nonetheless, this is a Catholic school, even if only a slim majority of the student body identifies as Catholic. Our namesake and patron, Saint Francis Xavier, traveled halfway across the world to then-little-known lands to lead others to the Catholic faith he believed in so strongly. Other followers of this same Catholic faith developed the university system and hospitals and preserved key texts from the ancient world when they would have otherwise been lost. The Church remains the most charitable organization in world history to date. This is not an identity to set aside, but to embrace.
We as a campus community need to have a better idea of what it means to be Catholic, since we proudly claim to be so. Catholicism does not boil down just to loving one’s fellow man, although an authentic Catholic would certainly do so. It is also a fundamental understanding of the human being and their relationship to the world.
As a campus community, embracing Xavier’s Catholic identity does not mean that all students convert to Catholicism. What it does involve is an atmosphere of Catholicism around campus, one that embraces the beauty and goodness to be found in this world, while taking seriously the tendency toward evil present within it. This embrace asks that the university and its students know and not fear standing up for the Catholic past and present, which, despite its flaws, is life-affirming in a manner rarely seen in our world.
Becoming more Catholic as a campus community does, however, mean that certain limits also have to be acknowledged. For this university to begin moving in the direction that many students want (e.g., by providing birth control on campus) is to violate the Catholic identity. Following that path would signify that the University is no longer committed to its Catholic identity. If Xavier denies its Catholic identity, it destroys the foundation of its commitment to truth and justice.
Benjamin Giles is a senior PPP and philosophy double major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Lafayette, Colo.