A Catholic University: Visions and Opportunities

Monsignor Terrence J. Murphy discusses he Catholic university in a new book

"How do you treat people? How do you treat the earth? Do you have a vision of a society that is compassionate, just and humane?"

These are some of the values of a Catholic education whose concern with community is combined with a philosophy of entrepreneurship. They are the inspiration for a new book by Monsignor Terrence J. Murphy about the nature of a Catholic university.

The nature of a university, the role of religion in its life and what is a Catholic university are the fundamental questions that Murphy addresses in A Catholic University: Vision and Opportunities.

Murphy, who was president of St. Thomas for 25 years and now serves as its chancellor, takes an in-depth look at St. Thomas to explore these questions. Under his leadership, the College of St. Thomas grew from 1,901 male undergraduates and 266 graduate education students in 1966 to more than 9,700 men and women in 1991, added more than a dozen buildings (in-cluding a new campus in Minne-apolis) and developed the many graduate degrees that led to its becoming the University of St. Thomas in 1990.

"I use St. Thomas as an example, but the book covers much broader territory in terms of what Catholic universities are doing and how they serve the community. This is not a complete history of St. Thomas," Murphy explained. "People have asked why St. Thomas grew and developed the way it did, so it is important to know who we were, how we thought and what we did that made a difference. St. Thomas is Catholic and it is successful. Our entrepreneurial spirit was key. We looked at the needs of the community and were creative in how we went about serving it."

Murphy identifies what makes a university a Catholic university and demonstrates how Catholicism can be an integral driving force. "A Catholic university that holds to its principles and is apostolic is one that reaches out and relates to all faiths," he said.

Religious values and commitment to the community, under entrepreneurial leadership, play out in specific academic programs and can change and give new energy and outreach to the university and its community.

Religion as it influences the education of young people can build better communities, Murphy said. "St. Thomas’ programs reflect that. They reach across the community and are suffused with Catholicism, whether that refers to the Graduate School (now the College) of Business, the School of Social Work, Catholic Studies or helping fund a free M.A. in education to teachers in Catholic schools."

In business, for example, Murphy describes how the impact of Catholic social thought relates to a community. "The influence of the Catholic Church may not be explicit in business but our values and principles are concerned with the ethical dimension. We ask: Is your advertising honest? Are your prices reasonable? The impact of our business alumni will be felt as our graduates age and get into leadership and decision-making arenas. This is especially important in small businesses that are multiplying at a rapid rate and providing jobs."

In the marketplace, religion can inspire a university to greater community service and can become an agent for good. "Our master’s program in software design — one of the largest in the country — is Catholic in the sense of the environment in which it is done. Anything that provides real services to the community, is Catholic with a small ‘c’ — meaning universal," he said.

"When I spoke to my first board of trustees meeting in 1966, I said St. Thomas was doing well and didn’t anticipate any great changes," Murphy recalled with a laugh. "But then we started building, and our big growth started coming after the Vietnam War was over. I didn’t know it, but I must have been an entrepreneur at heart."