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‘We Cannot Save Them’

A faithful Catholic mom's despair over Catholic higher education

Here is a startling letter from a reader. I have slightly edited it to protect her privacy, and the privacy of others. I know her name, and the names of the two colleges she mentions below:

I’m a long-time reader of your blog and have commented on many of your entries, but any time you post something about college or university life in our current culture I sit up and take notice. It’s very relevant to my life, at the moment, and I can’t quite believe what I’m watching unfold. Truth be told, sometimes I have a “pinch me” feeling after hearing of a particular offense that has occurred at the universities that my kids attend. But let me back up just a hair.

I’m a mom of three homeschooled children. My older two daughters are living at home and attending local universities, and our youngest son is still homeschooling and taking classes at the community college to fulfill some high school requirements. Because of this arrangement we have a close-up view of life on campus in our Age of Discontent.

My eldest began her college experience at a respected Catholic university and transferred to a much less expensive public university, after she discovered that life on the Catholic campus was about little more than casual hook-ups, drinking and the disease suffered by seemingly all post-millenials: Social Awkwardness By Cellphone Disorder. We were all shocked by her experiences at that school and steered her sister away from it and to another, smaller, Catholic college where we hoped for a different experience.

Nope! Not happening. And not only is there not a single shred of Catholicity at either of these colleges, in spite of one having actual men in robes teaching classes and the other having a majority board membership of religious sisters running the place, there seems to be in place an actual desire to see the institutions collapse in a burning heap of ruin. At least this is the conclusion that I’ve come to after listening to the wails of despair coming from my growing-up children.

We’ve listened to the stories of Catholic institutional representatives snorting and saying, “this is not a Catholic college”, without irony, have discovered a member of the Catholic university’s Political Science department in the newspaper [I verified this; that woman is a hardcore radical who hates the Catholic Church. — RD], as she marches in the Trans Rainbow Unicorn Pride Parade in town with her lesbian partner and their children — defying anyone to question her motives for taking that position at a school run by nun. We have seen the history professor with his same sex partner out and about and so on and so on ad infinitum.

I’m writing today to tell you of an event that occurred during my middle daughter’s first day of class because, well, I have to tell someone sympathetic to the plight of civility and the rules of engagement, and I think you might understand our family’s depth of despair over the direction that Catholic education has taken, even if you won’t be shocked. Although we were shocked by this particularly egregious example of straying far from the boundaries of what might be considered normal behavior on the part of a college professor.

Our daughter signed up for a Native American religions class in order to fill a diversity requirement and out of sincere interest in the subject. [I verified that this college teaches that particular class — RD] She was actually excited about it. On the first day of class, her professor, a PhD in the discipline and a Native American himself, began the class in what she felt was a near fit of rage by lecturing and yelling about cultural appropriation and the use of language to demean and colonize the indigenous populations of this continent. She said he was one of those “seething” people; you could feel him always trying to rein in his rage.

Okay, fine. I accept that there is more than enough reason for Native American rage and that a person, “representing their people” might feel obligated to express that rage to a classroom full of non-Indian people. I get it. I’m old enough to have gone to Free Leonard Peltier rallies and I grew up with and knew and dated Native people. I understand the issues and the rage well. What happened next, however, was beyond anything that I’ve ever encountered or even heard of from other parents or students. He then went on to talk about different Native American people who were famous in the white world. The most prominent being Pocahontas. He told the class that she was “nothing but a slut” and that she “was the shame of the people” and that her name meant “one who wants di*k”.

Yes. He said that in his class. My daughter said he got exactly what he wanted which was a room full of shocked, silent kids who had no idea how to respond to such madness at an institution of higher learning.

When this event became known at our family dinner last night I had that open-mouthed “what did you just say?!” thing going on and the next thing I said was, “What on earth are we all going to do?!” And I later thought…Ah. The Benedict Option, of course.

This is just another example of the withering away of Christian institutions and their slide into the smoking pit. We cannot save them. For real. It is time to let it burn and while it’s burning, hunker down and save what we can for when the smoke clears. Copy the stories onto fresh parchment with new ink and read them around the home fires while the world enters into this phase of, whatever it is.

People accuse you of the whole “running to the hills” thing and tell you that Christians must engage! We must be in the world! We must challenge the status quo and be the light! Well, I’m here to tell you that we are vastly outnumbered and engaging might just, actually, be the final nail in the coffin. I vote for a strategic retreat to bolster resources and be ready for the future when we might have an opportunity to come back out. But that time is definitely not now.

After I wrote to the reader asking for — and getting — the names of these colleges so I could do some verification work, the reader sent this follow-up, which I’ve also slightly edited to protect privacy:

We have friends here, a family of incredibly faithful Catholics. Members of our parish. Active in ministries. Kids in church every Sunday. The oldest went to [prestigious Catholic university] and has completely lost her faith. The second went to [local Catholic college] and is fallen away and living with a drug dealer. The middle child is a drug addict living on the streets. The youngest is still at home but the entire family has stopped going to church and has decided, based on the youngest child’s direction, that atheism is the rule of the day.

I’m not kidding, this is all TRUE. And they began homeschooling their middle and youngest children years and years ago. so that was no protection. I mean, my Lord!! The father is from a large Catholic family and has a brother who is a priest! It’s not uncommon that this is what happens to Catholic families today.

If our children stay faithful once they are adults I will be shocked. And why?! Not because we haven’t tried. We’re active in church. Faithful attendees. The children have participated in liturgy, service and religious ed. I teach them more re here at home. We have media limits. No cable. No violent video games. Limited social media and no cell phones before 16. Grace before dinner. Observe the liturgical year celebrations. Fast during Lent. Discuss everything, address all questions, admit to our sins and un-knowing, ad nauseam. To the point of mental exhaustion because, as you know, three teenagers in the house is quite a trip.

And yet! The world just pulls them in! It’s inexorable and my husband and I feel completely helpless in the face of it. But we still try and I guess that’s something. Isn’t it?

I just keep hoping and praying that some of this is becoming part of the fabric of their being and that later, after they all get through the horrible twenties, they will find their way back. But to what is the big question now, isn’t it?

This is the real world. Not all dioceses, or parts of the country, are that bad (move to Lafayette, La., for example, or Lincoln, Neb., and you’ll see a world of difference), but many are. Where this reader lives is a spiritual desert. And the churchocrats who run the institutions in such dying places are the first ones to denounce the Benedict Option, and to leave faithful parents and children like this reader out on the curb, denounced as “rigid” and whatnot.



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