Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 1997
Anyone who thinks the Church in America is in danger should spend a few weeks with me on the road. In the past few months, I have witnessed many many instances of renewed vitality among Catholics. Emerging out of this remarkable growth is a new alignment among orthodox Catholics, a network that is already challenging the wearied hegemony of establishment liberals.
While those who are informed only by the mainstream media continue to think that Catholics are clamoring for women priests, the real story is elsewhere. At the heart of this realignment are Catholics fiercely loyal to John Paul II and just as determined to bring dissident influence to an end. The recent episcopal appointments in Chicago and Denver reflect less the determination of Rome to nurture orthodoxy than the desire of the grassroots faithful for leadership. Archbishop Chaput, bless him, didn’t waste much time taking on the association of Catholic theologians who, ignoring the infallible teaching of the Church, continue to press for women’s ordination. Indeed, I am told, that the passing of Cardinal Bernardin has bequeathed a tentative mood to the United States Catholic Conference.
There was nothing tentative about the mood at EWTN in Birmingham, Alabama where I spent a week filming a 13-part series of television interviews entitled, “The Church and Culture Today.” Mother Angelica knows exactly what she wants to accomplish and clearly has the faith to do it. She is building a new monastery for forty nuns, starting a house of studies, and closing a deal to broadcast EWTN to four countries in Europe, in addition to her broadcasts throughout North and South America.
It is Mother Angelica’s radio and television networks, not the USCC, that are connecting the dots between Catholics dedicated to orthodox teaching and genuine evangelism. Her apostolate is undoubtedly the biggest ongoing Catholic news story in this country, yet receives little or no coverage.
As I followed her into the studio for “Mother Angelica Live,” I watched the members of the studio audience reach out to touch her. I recalled Leon Bloy’s famous line that “the only sadness is not being a saint,” but this time I experienced it.
This was my second dose of humility in a week. I had gone to Nashville to lecture for the sisters at the Dominican campus. Unexpectedly, I was taken into the cloister to visit over twenty of their novices. Looking around the room I saw face after face filled with the desire for holiness and the love of God. “If only every Catholic in America could be where I am sitting right now,” I thought to myself, “they would see how bright is the future of the Church.”
The Dominican campus in Nashville contains one of those handfuls of small Catholic schools that affirm their identity without turning “catholicity” into an excuse for ignoring the moral and doctrinal substance of the Catholic faith. St. Thomas More in New Hampshire, where I recently had the pleasure of addressing the alumni, is another. With fewer than a hundred students, the college demonstrates a heroic commitment to the Catholic tradition of liberal arts education—it’s like getting a Catholic education on Walden Pond, without the bad transcendentalism.
In addition to these, colleges like Thomas Aquinas in California, Franciscan University in Steubenville, the University of Dallas, Christendom College in Virginia, and Assumption College in Wooster present Catholic families with more choices for their college-age children. Joseph Hagan, president of Assumption, is an example of a college president, like Father Michael Scanlan, who has stayed at his job long enough to ensure the Catholic identity of his institution.
Leadership takes time to bear fruit, but today we are reaping the results of some courageous initiatives. I remember in the early ’80s, I visited Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. in San Francisco. He had already launched the exemplary St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco and was getting ready to publish the first vol
umes from Ignatius Press. Catholic publishing, at the time, was owned lock-stock-and-barrel by liberals. Almost anything worth reading had to be plucked from the dusty shelves of a used bookstore. I was wide-eyed, to say the least when he told me he was going to publish everything he could find by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Pieper. And, now looking up at my bookshelves, I see more Ignatius Books than old Sheed & Ward classics.
As with Mother Angelica, there are few who give Father Fessio the credit he so richly deserves. A new Catholic Renaissance has indeed started, and we can give thanks to those who began laboring twenty years ago, just when everyone predicted the game was over.