A new university in Australia offers hope of a Catholic cultural renaissance, says Karl Schmude campion College Australia is a new institution born of ancient tradition. It is Australia's first liberal arts college and also the country's first Catholic institution at university level offering an undergraduate programme that is at once broad and integrated. In Australian society, noted as it is for the vocational emphasis of its higher education and its secularised national culture, the marks of a Campion degree are distinctive: a curriculum of foundational subjects history, philosophy, theology, literature and science elevated and unified by Catholic principles and perspectives. The development of Campion College has drawn deeply on the inspiration of figures especially associated with the English Catholic tradition St Edmund Campion himself, as well as John Cardinal Newman, 0 K Chesterton and Christopher Dawson. The adoption of the name emanates from Campion's universal status as a scholar, martyr and saint, but also from his local links with Australia. He has long served as the patron saint of lay Catholic adult education in Australia, beginning in the 1930s with the Campion Society through to the 1970s when a successor body. the Campion Fellowship, was established. The presence of Newman can be felt throughout Campion College, most notably in his "idea of a university" which seeks to enlarge the mind by re-integrating secular and religious learning. G K Chesterton is an exemplar of the entire curriculum, a one-man embodiment of the Catholic liberal arts. He combined. in his vast person and voluminous writings, the qualities of this enduring tradition of education its comprehensive range and its unity of insight. While Christopher Dawson formed a crucial source of guidance and inspiration in the development of Campion College nearly half a century ago, in a seminally important work, The Crisis of Western Education (1961), he analysed the vacuum in contemporary universities arising from the disappearance of "the classics". He saw that the dissolution of this common educational tradition replaced as it was, on the one hand, by utilitarian or career training, and on the other, by subject specialisation was having severe cultural effects. It was causing a profound fragmentation of western culture, which would, in time, empty out meaning and memory, disenfranchising people spiritually and socially, and leaving them prey to the most powerful evils. For Catholics this disintegration was especially serious. since the cultural underpinning of the faith its philosophical and legal framework, its linguistic and aesthetic expressions. its scientific energies had long been supplied by the classical tradition. The disappearance of these cultural meanings and memories, Dawson believed, would expose Catholics in the West to the full force of secularist modernity without the educational and cultural protection afforded by the old humanist heritage. Dawson strongly favoured a cultural solution expressed through a study of the liberal arts. This would build a keen understanding of the incarnational impact and importance of the Christian faith the various ways in which Christianity found expression in the institutions and laws of a society, its language and literature, its art and architecture, its music and technologies, its symbols and festivals: in short, a people's identity. By such means Catholics could be equipped to keep alive a sense of their spiritual and cultural roots and maintain the integrity of their religion in the face of secularist distortions and temptations. In recent decades, the vast collapse in popular Catholic life and culture has only served to highlight the validity of Dawson's insights, and reinforce the urgency of an educational initiative that will deal with the reality of cultural collapse and the imperative need for recovery. Apart from individual figures, Campion College has also been influenced by institutional models, ranging from medieval Europe to modem America. The liberal arts programme seeks to recapture the integrated study of reality characteristic of the trivium of the medieval university grammar (language), rhetoric (speech) and logic (thinking). It aims to cultivate a Catholic mind, ensuring that it is "properly trained and formed", in Newman's words, "to have a connected view or grasp of things". In the face of a fragmented approach to education in the mainstream system, Campion fosters the synthesis of natural reason and supernatural faith. Such a blend formed the vitalising root of learning in the Middle Ages and has been reanimated for our time in the magisterial writings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. While Campion College is anchored in a historical tradition, it is emphatically attuned to the intellectual needs of a post-Christian culture. The Catholic liberal arts colleges which have emerged since the 1970s, chiefly in the USA (such as Thomas Aquinas College in California and Christendom College in Virginia), have given new impetus to the renaissance of Catholic higher education in the secularised West. They represent a decisive break from the mainstream culture, both Catholic and secular. They are, as it were, the cells of a new cultural mainstream. Such an education is designed to prepare Catholics for a culture that is, in Newman's prophetic vision, "simply irreligious" denuded of religious meaning and value, tenaciously secularist, yet full of spiritual anxieties and yearnings. The birth of Campion College has taken place against a backdrop of educational turmoil. The parlous condition of presentday universities is often ascribed to financial and political factors, but the root causes are cultukal and spiritual. Australia, in common with much of the West, has experienced a loss of vision and nerve as to what universities are, and what they are for. In its own way, the university has suffered the same fate as the Church in our time namely, a loss of transcendence. The university's devotion to reason and learning, to the dispassionate search for truth, has become subject to the quest for worldly power and political salvation, in the same way that the Church's devotion to revelation has been threatened with subordination to earthly values and ideologies. The recovery of a Catholic educational tradition is central to the college. The institution's religious identity is pervasive, expressed in the liturgical and devotional life of the students as well as in their intellectual and social pursuits. The College is inspired by no less a hope than to foster a new springtime of Catholic thought and imagination in Australia as a vital part of evangelisation for a new millennium. The approach of World Youth Day in 2008 gives a special focus to Campion's religious character and educational mission. Not only will its students be participating. but the College itself will serve as a centre of apostolic initiatives. During the week itself (July 14-20) it will provide a program of catechesis for young pilgrims. In the weeks surrounding it will offer an intensive course on Australian politics, culture and religion, exploring the historical contribution of Catholicism to our society. The course will highlight major figures in Australian history, such as Archbishop John Bede Folding, Caroline Chisholm and Blessed Mary McKillop, all of whom have served as both religious teachers and secular leaders. There have been great initiatives in the past in Catholic education the monasteries. the medieval universities, the teaching religious orders. Each has, in response to the imperatives of their time, sought to nurture a Catholic mind and heart, stimulate a Catholic intellectual synthesis and prepare a Catholic leadership. These are the inestimable goals to which Campion College Australia is dedicated, and to which it hopes to contribute at World Youth Day next July.
Karl Schmude is a trustee of the College's governing body.
For further information, email kschmude@compionedu Elf