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Where are all the Catholics at the nation’s largest Catholic school

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Photo courtesy of Anna Wolfe

Photo courtesy of Anna Wolfe

Photo courtesy of Anna Wolfe

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When Selena Miller, a practicing Catholic, applied to DePaul, she had no idea it was a Catholic university.

Damita Meneves, another practicing Catholic, said she has met only one other Catholic student in her first year at DePaul.

DePaul is the largest Catholic University in the country. But the inauguration of President A. Gabriel Esteban marks the first time in history that DePaul has had a president that is not a Catholic priest. With many Catholic events on campus drawing modest-sized crowds, it begs the question, where are all the Catholics?

According to enrollment statistics provided by DePaul, the number of Catholic students is declining. In 2007, 57 percent of incoming DePaul freshmen who chose to report a religious affiliation identified as Catholic. In 2017 that number has dwindled to 38 percent.

By comparison, the University of Notre Dame has 81 percent of its incoming freshmen identifying as Catholic. Boston College reports 70 percent, and Loyola University reports 59 percent.

At a school of nearly 23,000 students where at least a third are reporting as Catholic, it would stand to reason that thousands of Catholic students should be roaming the halls. Yet most weekly events put on by Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) draw between 10 to 25 students.

Katelyn Polich is one of the many students to stray away from her Catholic faith while at DePaul. She was raised Catholic, baptized as a baby and attended Catholic school for eight years.

“I was really into (being Catholic) in high school,” she said.

Polich said that having a gay brother was one of the biggest reasons that she no longer identifies as Catholic.

“Once you call yourself a Catholic, then you associate yourself with all the things that the Vatican and Catholic Church believes,” she said.

Although she may not be Catholic anymore, Polich acknowledged that Catholicism at DePaul looks different from other Catholic universities.

“DePaul doesn’t feel like a Catholic school at all,” she said.

Head over to CCM and you will find some of the nicest people on campus. They will likely offer you food or invite you to attend one of their many weekly events.

With signs welcoming LGBTQ+ youth, it doesn’t feel like the Catholic faith of yesterday. People don’t seem pushy; they just seem happy to see you.

Amanda Thompson, the director of CCM, said that being Catholic at DePaul isn’t quite the same as being Catholic elsewhere.

“DePaul has more of a progressive, liberal Catholicism,” she said.

Thompson said that you don’t have to be “staunchly Catholic” to fit in at DePaul.

She said that just because afternoon mass isn’t overflowing doesn’t mean that there isn’t a significant number of Catholics. There are larger events that bring in hundreds of students, like Sunday Mass and Ash Wednesday.

“A lot of our Catholics are commuter students,” she said.

Thompson said that a large majority of the Catholic population in Chicago is Latinx. For them, it can often be important to stay close to their home parish.

Thompson agreed that in today’s world it can be a challenge to make Catholicism attractive to college students. Thompson said that students are increasingly feeling that they don’t need organized faith.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, said Thompson. When asked to respond to DePaul’s dwindling number of Catholics, Thompson said, “This is a place of dialogue.”

Although Thompson’s answers may not seem on par with traditional Catholicism, Stan Ilo, professor in the Department of Catholic Studies, agreed with Thompson.

“People shouldn’t mourn,” Ilo said in response to the decline in reporting Catholics. “Being a Catholic University doesn’t mean being a Catholic silo.”

Rev. Jeremy Dixon is a pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, located on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. He said that the decline in Catholics at DePaul may have something to do with a larger trend.

“The Catholic Church has seen a decline in the Chicago area by about 25 percent,” he said.

Many Catholics believe that for the Catholic Church to stay relevant, it will need to redefine some of its values, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ and women’s reproductive rights. DePaul may be liberal, but the university still won’t sanction condom distribution on campus.

Without hesitation, Dixon said that anybody can be gay and still be Catholic.

Dixon acknowledged that the Catholic Church may potentially need to reexamine some of its stances that have alienated many from the church.

“It’s not something that can just change overnight,” he said. “(The Catholic Church) doesn’t take a popularity poll.”

DePaul has come under fire for its liberal approach to Catholicism. In 2011, First Things Magazine named DePaul “The Least Catholic Catholic School in America.”

The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic outlet, has attacked DePaul several times over the years. It blasted DePaul for allowing Planned Parenthood on campus and a quick search of DePaul on its website brings up numerous articles attacking DePaul for not aligning with traditional Catholic values.

Dixon said it is important that DePaul doesn’t forget its Catholic identity, but that doesn’t mean it can’t minister to non-Catholics.

“Just because you aren’t Catholic doesn’t mean you can’t work in the soup kitchen,” he said. “It’s about practicing Catholic values.”

In his inaugural address, President Esteban said that DePaul will continue its commitment to serve the marginalized.

“We choose to serve these communities because we simply believe it must be done,” he said. “This is what it means to be a Catholic university.”

18 Comments

18 Responses to “Where are all the Catholics at the nation’s largest Catholic school”

  1. K Diane on January 23rd, 2018 9:32 am

    Respectfully, I would earnestly urge all wavering Catholics to renounce the misguided notion that “for the Catholic Church to stay relevant, it will need to redefine some of its values”. On the contrary: abandoning the secure deposit of faith (abandoning the infallibly taught values of previous magisterial authority, thereby invalidating the present magisterial authority) is the only way to make the Catholic faith IRrelevant. I am a young person in RCIA to join the Catholic Church, and I can guarantee you: if the Church falls down like the more liberal Protestant churches are starting to (mimicking the changing culture instead of holding fast to the timeless revealed truth of God) I’m not the only one who would, in great grief, have to leave the Church entirely–because the about face on fundamental issues of morals and faith would be proof the Church never had the authority to teach morals in the name of the eternal God after all, and then what is a church for? Join a social club.

    The Church has never been here to make us feel comfortable: it is here to call us to holiness by the mercy of God. It cannot change with the times; God’s truth is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And no one seeking to be conformed to God will join a Church that conforms itself to the changing world. We are all in this together: LGBTQ+, those who have had abortions, those who have practiced infidelity, those who are tempted by food, alcohol, pride, fear, lust. We are none of us better than another, and all of us struggle with different things–and God calls all of us equally to cooperate with the graces He gives us to work toward holiness (the only way to live that brings true, deep, and lasting joy).

    A CS Lewis quote comes to mind: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

    [Reply]

  2. RC on January 23rd, 2018 11:46 am

    The article includes a handful of things that characterize exactly why things have become the way they are: firstly, the discussion revolves time and again in articles like these about people’s complaints about how the Church, not them or people they know, alienate them from the faith itself. Second, you have use of a phrase like “conservative Catholic.” Both examples denote this idea that people imagine the Church is just an earthly institution and basically the faith is this made-up routine that can be changed like a political party’s platform is every four years at a convention. When one imagines the Church teaches anything at all meant to alienate and hurt others, and that it can just change things as though nothing has any rooting in a Tradition and Scripture that are transcendent, they can never actually be at peace with the actual Catholic Faith. The views expressed in this piece by students reflect an immediate tendency to run toward what is human and easy rather than difficult and divine. In an era in which information is so instantly available online to people clarifying any question, such as about Catholic doctrines, people don’t take seconds to look into these things. And why? They don’t care to find out the answers; it’s the Church’s fault, not ours. The Church is the problem; not my own self-imposed ignorance about being part of a faith that does profess an absolute set of morals rooted in something far above anything anyone earthly can change. Look no further than the Church’s self-imposed implosion of catechesis and the lack of clarity and conviction among so much of the clergy and hierarchy among them, for the roots of these problems now reaching a fever pitch as never before. Pray for all the faithful that they learn their faith and make informed decisions about where they stand with it, and for a clergy willing to do the hard work of challenging the young especially to reflect upon where they stand with the faith and why they are better off with it, than without it.

    [Reply]

  3. Lee Gilbert on January 23rd, 2018 11:53 am

    DePaul University has not been Catholic for a very long time, and there is plenty to suggest that it is anti-Catholic. it is very pro-LGBT, for one thing. When I was there in 1984, a course on Apocalyptic Literature was taught by John Dominic Crossan former Servite , married ex-priest, now member of the Jesus Seminar, heretic. Te course was a scandal and a counter apologetic for the Catholic faith.The theology department seemed to consist entirely of ex-priests. I doubt very much that it has become more orthodox in the meantime.

    I’d be very interested to know what justification there is for still referring to it as Catholic. It is a fraud upon the Catholic people of Chicago, especially hardworking parents who send their children there, a blot now both on the reputation of the Vincentians and on that of the archbishops who did not condemn it.

    [Reply]

  4. Sine nomine on January 23rd, 2018 4:12 pm

    Not surprised to read about the almost extinct catholic identity of De Paul University. Contrary to universal church norms the university has, for several years, employed a former catholic priest as a theology professor. This same man is presently legally “married “ to another man. This fact is known to the university administration who quietly approve of this outrageously scandalous situation. St. Vincent must weep at the condition of his once formerly glorious congregation.

    [Reply]

  5. David on January 23rd, 2018 5:57 pm

    Abortion and male-on-male sex acts will always be sinful.

    DePaul should give up the farce. It’s no longer aligned with God and Divine Law.

    It can be like Northwestern, Duke, etc. which were founded as Christian but dropped it and became non-denominational

    [Reply]

  6. Thomas Augustine on January 24th, 2018 12:22 am

    Perhaps it’s time for the Catholic Church to move beyond Jesus and all that Bible stuff.

    [Reply]

    Question Reply:

    Yeah? Move beyond to WHAT exactly? This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius or some booooollllsheit?

    [Reply]

    David Thomas Reply:

    SO … you are Catholic?

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    Perhaps it’s time the Catholic moved beyond all that Novus Ordo stuff and get back to the TLM.

    [Reply]

  7. David on January 24th, 2018 5:38 am

    DePaul is eunuch in its catholicity, which is not very unique these days in regards to “catholic” higher education.

    [Reply]

  8. Elizabeth D on January 24th, 2018 10:25 am

    Isn’t it telling that the student news profiles Catholic ministry on campus and takes the opportunity to attack the Catholic Church continuing to teach moral truths that come from God, To the editors of the DePaulia, in the name of all that is true, good and beautiful, Catholic Christianity believes in chastity. You may wrestle with that being the case, but be honest that you don’t quite understand that since no one’s taught you and you’ve not yet become disillusioned enough with the harm of how people sexually exploit one another today to seek out those answers, and that you wrestle with that. The point of view of the sexual revolution that celebrates fornication and homosexuality, severing sex from true and sacred commitment and having children, wallowing in pornography and selfishness and then trying to replicate it in real life in degrading fashion, is not a Catholic point of view. The Biblical and Catholic point of view is that these things really harm and are utterly contrary to our dignity as made in the image of God (and if we are baptized, as members of Christ’s Body), and that God loves us and dearly wants to forgive and heal us and restore us to Himself. Jesus saves us and tells the repentant person “Go, and sin no more.” So many people today have the foundations of their notion of right and wrong about sex laid for them by the sexual revolution and they do not even have the fundamental way of thinking of why it is right to be upright, pure, self controlled, and responsible in one’s sexuality, as either single or married and having a family. Many are the secular universities that have a Catholic student center where these truths are taught, kids come to daily Mass, regular confession, spiritual direction, Bible studies, lectures and retreats where they really come to know God and to live a truly Christian and Catholic way of life. I live right by a place like that, not real far away either, where hundreds of students are involved and they are real Catholics, If you are Catholic you cannot just think like the world, you have to seek wisdom, that is to see things as they truly are from God’s point of view and to learn to do what God wants, which is actually what is best. That’s what students at DePaul should be doing during their time in college, what will actually prepare them for living in a way that is good in this life and can get them to heaven to be happy with God forever in the next. Fornication and homosexual behavior and poisoning your mind and relationships with porn won’t help you with that. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Then, you can rightly love folks that are still stuck in their porn addiction and using one another like sex toys, and let people know they’re made for more.

    [Reply]

    Doug Reply:

    Elizabeth, what made you think you would find authentic Christianity in a college whose thrust is 90% secular?
    St Paul, the one with the impressive CV, said his attainments were as “filth” compared to knowledge of Christ. Php 3:9, NJB.

    [Reply]

  9. Ranger01 on January 24th, 2018 7:39 pm

    It is not rocket science, dear editors.
    The university can conform to the will of its secular gay masters and win their smiles.
    Or, conform to the will of Our Lord and His Church and the spirit of the university’s namesake so as to attain salvation.
    DePaul cannot serve two masters. Bet on it.

    [Reply]

  10. Bob Wilkins on January 25th, 2018 12:21 am

    I agree that this unidiversity is ready to show the world the REAL meaning of Christianity and Catholicism, ….

    by throwing off the shackles of the direct teachings of Jesus (the Christ in the word “Christian”, for the DePaul faculty and students) , as obviously it was mis-recorded in the only record of the times (that is the Bible/Sacred Scripture, for DePaul staff and students), …

    And clearly, these progressive thinkers have a far better inside track on what the REAL teachings were, and have copies ready to share with anyone, filed under “Unrestrained hedonism” and “Gnosticism/Secret Teachings For The Spritual Elite”, and subtitled “The Previous 2000yrs Were All Wrong, And So Are You, Until You Agree With Us, You Hater, HATER, HHAAAATERRRR!”

    [Reply]

  11. Elaine on January 25th, 2018 9:23 am

    There are no Catholic colleges or universities in the U.S. To be Catholic, one must believe in and teach the true faith. That hasn’t been the case for the past 50+ years as the true faith has been replaced by the synthesis of heresies, Modernism, and believed and taught from the popes on down.

    [Reply]

  12. Doug on January 25th, 2018 3:28 pm

    Hey! Don’t forget the great Music Dept. I heard some nice bebop there some years ago.

    [Reply]

  13. Kimbo Slice on February 2nd, 2018 1:23 pm

    It is sad to see such a drop in numbers since 2007, but if the people in these comments represent the type of people whom potential Catholics encounter at church, I can see why less people want to be involved. Jesus loved unconditionally – we (claiming to be Christians) should all try that.

    [Reply]

  14. Robert L Greene on February 9th, 2018 6:35 pm

    “The world consists of protestants who go to mass and protestants who don’t go to mass.” Archbishop Charles Chaput – Philadelphia

    [Reply]

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