Canisius College opened its Sesquicentennial Year Series on November 12 with a visit from Fordham University President Rev. Joseph M. McShane, SJ. Father McShane was the first of three Jesuit university presidents scheduled to speak at Canisius this year about “The Future of American Catholic Higher Education.”
Click here to read his speech in its entirety.
Sponsored by the William H. Fitzpatrick Institute of Public Affairs and Leadership, the series provides an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of Catholic higher education in the nation’s history and to identify the challenges that lie ahead.
Father McShane is a Church historian and therefore opened his talk with a discussion about the history of Catholic higher education in the U.S., suggesting there are “important strategic ways of thinking and acting from the past that will help us understand how we can and should confront, engage and embrace the future.”
After outlining those strategies, Father McShane segued into the evolution of American Catholic higher education. He underscored how this comfortable and somewhat insulated academic world changed following the explosion of vocations after World War II. How it changed again upon the election of the first Catholic president, and once more following the Second Vatican Council.
Now, upon the threshold of the future, Father McShane detailed the “breathtaking and seismic demographic shifts,” which are affecting “all colleges and universities but especially Catholic colleges and universities” at the same time that “vocations to the priesthood and religious life have all but dried up.”
But there is a way forward, McShane continued, indicating that “the savvy and attentive inculturation that our forebearers used is the key to the future of the American Church and its colleges and universities.” McShane explained that the forebearers were humble enough to listen to the needs, wants and demands of the people and savvy enough to realize the solution didn’t lie in a one-size-fits-all approach.
“American Catholic higher education will survive and thrive,” McShane concluded, “only if it is responsive to the needs of the Church’s people today, as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and only if the Church recognizes it is a community of communities – and that the needs of the various communities that it is called to serve are different.”
Father McShane was born in New York City, entered the Society of Jesus in 1967 and was ordained in 1977. He has taught at Canisius High School and LeMoyne College, and has served as an administrator at Fordham and Scranton. He became the 32nd president of Fordham University in 2003.
Subsequent talks in the Sesquicentennial Year Series will be presented by Dr. John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, on April 2, 2020, and Rev. William P. Leahy, SJ, president of Boston College, on April 27, 2020.