‘Defending the Faith at the Highest Intellectual Levels’
by Donna Sue Berry
There is a second Famine in Ireland today. Not a Famine which starves the body, but a spiritual Famine which threatens the foundations of a society whose Christian roots reach back into late Roman times. Kathy Sinnott and Nick Healy have a dream which they are sharing in Ireland and amongst the Irish Diaspora numbered in the tens of millions around the world. Their dream is to build Newman College Ireland to respond to this challenge in today’s Irish society and to defend the Faith at the highest intellectual levels.
The Ideal of a University: “…But a University training is the great ordinary means to an great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them.”
Blessed John Henry Newman
Outline of a Dream
Newman College Ireland will be based on EX CORDE ECCLESIAE, the Apostolic Constitution promulgated in 1990 by Saint Pope John Paul II — that no institution of higher learning is to call itself “Catholic” unless the norms of Ex Corde Ecclesiae are met.
This four year Catholic college will have Liberal Arts as its primary curriculum and will offer courses in theology, history, philosophy, literature, as well as math, economics and natural science. The campus at Newman College Ireland will be a residential one with faculty, staff, and students living, working and learning together.
The faculty and staff are expected to provide a witness that Catholic moral teaching can be lived joyfully; and to accompany students on their journey to mature Catholic adulthood. The course of studies will be rigorous, and intended to introduce students to the life of the mind.
The goal is for Newman College graduates to become leaders; to be salt and light in a society that is rapidly de-Christianizing and in which the Catholic Church is on the defensive.
At a Time of Bitter Sadness
The idea for the Catholic college came at a time of bitter sadness for former Member of European Parliament, Kathy Sinnott. Her son, who had been attending a liberal arts college in America, drowned in a tragic accident in 2009.
“At his funeral I was thinking how happy in his faith my son was over the last couple of years and how some of his friends in Ireland didn’t have the same opportunity, and I just thought people in Ireland should have this,” Mrs. Sinnott has said. She believes “the time is right” for such an institution.
Working alongside her for the establishment and success of the college is American Nicholas J. Healy. He is the President Emeritus of Ave Maria University in Florida, and today is the President and CEO of Friends of Catholic Education in Ireland, a nonprofit entity intended to support Catholic higher education in Ireland that meets the requirements of Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
Q. President Healy, what was the genesis of this idea for you? How did you get involved?
A. About two years ago I was contacted by Kathy Sinnott about helping to start a new Catholic university or college in Ireland. She had heard that I had some experience in the start-up of new Catholic institutions of higher learning, and that I had just retired as President of Ave Maria University. I agreed to give her general guidance.
Q. Did anything happen to kick this project into high gear?
A. In October of 2012 my wife and I made a visit to Ireland. We decided to make it a pilgrimage in gratitude for our Irish ancestors handing on the faith to us. We traveled all over Ireland, meeting with priests, lay Catholics and the Apostolic Nuncio.
‘I came back from that trip convinced that a Catholic college faithful to the Church was desperately needed, and that I should do what I could to help bring it about.’
Q. Wow, what did you do next?
A. I dropped all other consulting work to focus on Ireland. I wrote up what I called a “case statement” to outline the kind of institution that I thought would work. The purpose was to make sure that the group in Ireland accepted the general principles of what I believed were essential to success and also to begin the process of generating financial support.
Q. A private university is a novel idea in much of Europe. What sort of response are you getting from the Irish?
A. A private, lay-initiated institution is really the only practical solution. To get government support would be very difficult and time-consuming, and government support inevitably brings a measure of control.
“Lay-initiated institutions are uncommon in Ireland (and in Europe in general) but of course not in America,” said Nick Healy. “Indeed, most of the finest colleges and universities here are private. The response in Ireland is very encouraging.”
The Church there has largely been on the defensive against a media that is extremely hostile, and a government that seems determined to minimize the role of the Church in Irish society.
NICK AND JANE HEALY IN SEARCH OF A HOME FOR NEWMAN COLLEGE: “Many Irish I have met think of Newman College Ireland as a breath of fresh air. The very idea of Catholic intellectual center is highly encouraging, especially after so many years of experiencing a decline in the practice of the faith.”
Q. Are your supporters mainly Irish Americans? How/where would you like to broaden your base?
A. From the outset I have believed that the main support for NCI would have to be provided by the Irish diaspora. I formed Friends of Catholic Education in Ireland as a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity to facilitate fundraising. Just in the United States there are some 40 million Americans who identify themselves as of Irish descent. I am convinced that many of these are grateful for the faith that was preserved and handed on through great sacrifices.
‘During the penal years — which lasted over a century — there were times when priests were hunted like wolves (they could be shot on sight) and the practice of the faith was harshly circumscribed. Yet the Irish people held on to the faith.’
Then there are the thousands of Irish priests, missionaries and religious educators who created the infrastructure of the Church in new lands, especially the US, Canada and Australia. This too should engender gratitude. Almost all our support has come from Americans, but in time we would hope to extend our efforts to the Irish diaspora in Canada, Australia and England; and eventually Ireland itself.
Q. Defending the Faith at the highest intellectual levels in the current climate in Ireland is an enormous challenge. How do you see a way forward against this enormous challenge?
A. The intellectual climate in Ireland is indeed hostile to the Christian vision, and especially to the institutional Church. Yet Ireland still has a deeply Catholic culture.
‘If the Catholic perspective on policy and cultural issues is well articulated it resonates powerfully. We have truth on our side, and many are becoming disgusted with the empty promises of secularism. Prosperity did not deliver what it promised, and Irish people are looking for deeper meaning in their lives. The time is ripe to proclaim the truths and beauty of the ancient Faith.’
Based in the United States, this organization has received approval from the IRS as a tax exempt 501(c) (3) and tax deductible contributions can be made to:
Friends of Catholic Education in Ireland, Inc.
999 Vanderbilt Beach Rd
Naples, FL 34108