In 1991, in his Apostolic Constitution on the Catholic University, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II declared that it is his “deep conviction that a Catholic University is without any doubt one of the best instruments that the Church offers to our age, which is searching for certainty and wisdom.” These are hardly surprising words, considering that universities are one of our most important institutions: most young people pass through their halls, having their minds and souls formed by what they learn therein. Most of the results, at least in terms of the students’ Catholic faith, are not all that good, if not deleterious. Yet the Church continues to emphasize the importance of the Catholic university, and its mission to achieve a harmony between reason and faith because, as noted in Gravissimum Educationis, whatever knowledge one reaches within a given secular subject should be matched by a corresponding level in knowledge of the truths of the faith.
Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, a liberal arts college structured according to the principles of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, was founded to achieve this very purpose. What began as an idea (one might more accurately say a hopeful dream) in the minds of some families and young people in the Combermere, Ont. area, is now a reality. The obstacles to founding an institution with no money and no building seemed insurmountable, but some intrepid souls thought, “The books are there, and what more really does one need to start teaching?” So, after an initial trial year running a study centre with six young people, teaching in living rooms and farm houses, the members of the academy were offered a former convent in nearby Barry’s Bay, on a beautiful site overlooking Lake Kamaniskeg and in 2000, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy began its inaugural year with nine students. In this, our third year of operation, we have 19 full- and part-time students from all over North America, and our first international student from England.
One might now ask, what is the academy, and what has it set out to do? As the mission statement declares, our purpose is to form young people intellectually and spiritually by providing a university-level education in the liberal arts in the light of the teaching of the Catholic Church and so renew modern culture in Christ.
We decided to begin working towards this lofty goal by offering a one-year foundational program unique in Canada. Courses include Christian doctrine, a kind of introduction to theology using the Catechism explicated in light of the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, philosophy, logic, Latin, church history, Scripture and apologetics, music, as well as seminars in papal teaching (especially John Paul II), literature and other special topics.
We are also asked, why these courses, and not others? We decided to choose those subjects that were most important and fundamental in the intellectual and spiritual formation of the human person, but also courses that one would have difficulty finding on a secular campus. We do hope to expand our curriculum, to include other subjects, including more science, math and literature. In fact, our mission statement states that although Our Lady Seat of Wisdom will continue to offer this foundational year, we hope to develop both a two-year core curriculum, as well as a full four-year liberal arts program. This would of course allow us to offer a broader range of material, leading to our own accreditation and degree-granting power. Currently, we have articulation agreements with the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and Ave Maria Collage in Ypsilanti, Mich., meaning that all of our credits are transferrable to their degrees; we hope to work out similar agreements with other universities in Canada and the United States before approaching the provincial government for our own charter (thereby becoming one day Our Lady Seat of Wisdom University).
This will all take time, prayer, grace, funding, teachers, students and the co-operation and support of those who see the importance of higher education, especially at the university level.
We cannot leave our young people, who are the future, prey either to the ideologies swirling around our campuses today or to teachers who are confused and uncertain about the truth that has been given us in Christ himself. Our young people are hungering for this truth and we have seen so much good come from even the one year students spend here immersing themselves in a fully Catholic learning environment. It is only by reforming the minds of our young people that we can hope to reform their souls and so begin rebuilding the culture of life.
John Paul Meenan is executive director of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, a one-year foundation school in Barry’s Bay, Ont.