Tips on Choosing a University and
the Catholic Extended Family
Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
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Last summer at a family get-together, one of my cousins was soliciting opinions about where to send his eldest daughter to college next year. He wanted her to go to a college where her faith would not be attacked and where she could meet promising prospects for marriage.
Seneca once gave some wise advice about not asking too many people for advice or you’ll end up more confused than you started, and I’m sure my cousin agreed with him at the end of the day. He and his wife both were both part of the Pearson program at the University of Kansas. Only a thin shell of the former thriving program remains, as Dr. Dennis Quinn continues valiantly alone with the program. But the program is too small now and KU too wicked for his daughter to go there, said my cousin, who had better luck himself there some 18 years ago when he met Dr. Quinn’s eldest daughter and married her.
This is a problem so many traditionalist parents are facing today: where to send their children to school? Some good friends from Dallas, Dr. Paul Bray and his wife Libbi, were also at the gathering. They have three young children, all a long way off from college. But the time goes fast, as my cousin would assure you. Ten years ago, he wasn’t worrying either.
Dr. Bray went home, gave some serious thought to the question, and addressed the question on the monthly mailing that he sends to a list of traditionalists. He said so much of what I was thinking that I will, with his permission, just copy his column for benefit of readers:
“Most of the recipients on this mailing list are aware enough of what is going on in the Church to know that traditional Catholic university education is just about dead. There remain some conservative schools, but none that I know teaches the full implication of traditional Catholic theology and philosophy, in a way that would enable their graduates to critique the modernist crisis afflicting the Church. Such an ability would also make possible a critique of our political and social dilemmas from an authentic Catholic point of view.
Some very sound thinking, in my opinion, from Dr. Bray.
"If you consider Universtity of Dallas to be one of those conservative schools, then please visit the following website:
"Now, as you ponder where to send your children, please consider the following:
“1. The basic unit of Catholic, and therefore authentic, society is the family, nuclear and extended.
“2. Many, if not most, young adults from truly Catholic families leave family and home after high school graduation to attend college far away from home at a school here their beliefs and morality are not reinforced, and they are subjected to terrible temptations.
“3. Sadly, the prevailing attitude today, even among conservative Catholic parents, is that children should get out of the house at age 18. Among Catholic young adults, the prevailing attitude is that they are not free unless they get away from their parents and siblings. Most of human history has been lived to the contrary.
“4. For most students, college education is not education in its true sense, but job training (look at their majors). The desire for good jobs after graduation leads many to attend so-called "prestigious" institutions, which are ridiculously over-priced.
“5. To meet the astronomical costs of a college education, most students go
“6. To be able to pay off school loan debt, most college graduates will take
the highest paying job they can find, which is invariably in another location far from family. Ruinous debt negatively impacts other aspects of a young adult's life: marriage, having children, pursuing the vocation that God wills for them, etc.
“7. To rebuild Catholic society requires that we dare to break this modern cycle that tends to disperse Catholic families.
“An alternative approach if you have a good family situation that has potential to stay that way:
“1. Send your children, especially your daughters, to school as close to home
as possible, considering their educational goals.
“2. If your home life permits, living at home and going to school should not
be considered ridiculous. If not, then the family still needs to be supportive of the college student. Animals in the jungle abandon or drive off their young when they become young adults. Catholic parents should not.
“3. Encourage your children to have the goal of graduating without debt. If you will be footing the bill, then don't allow yourself to be pressured into something you can't afford just because the little one "dreams" of going someplace with a "big" name.
“4. Forget the modern obsession with prestigious universities. From personal
experience, I can tell you the Ivy League is highly overrated. Your children should go where the tuition is affordable.
“5. Catholic institutions have all the same problems that their secular counterparts do. Don't think that if you send your child to a Catholic school, then they won't get into trouble. Most Catholic colleges actually represent the greatest danger to the faith. It may be better to let your children stay close to home at the local state university.
“6. If you do not have children who are nearing high school graduation, foster the attitude now that going to college does not have to mean going away. Family and Church are more important than diplomas.”
Mr. Bray’s advice is practical, ordered, logical. At base, it supports the notion of the Catholic family as a solid unit of society that extends and supports its members, instead of sending them off to seek their “independence” as soon as they turn 18, a very modern notion. At a university far away, or on an adventure in some more “exotic” state, so often they meet and marry someone who lives in yet another state. Then the parents see their children and grandchildren when they can, which is never enough. The modern family is extended in a space so far it cannot enjoy the benefits, joys and goodness of the Catholic extended family of days past, which made its own small society and world.
The Catholic patriarchal family that formed the organic society of the past is the extended family. It begins with a strong basic unit committed to the Faith and Catholic principles, a place where so many young traditionalist families are starting today. The children marry and have their own children and live together or in the same general area. Then these marry and have their own families, and all remain united around the persons of the parents. During this organic process, the role of the father – who is now a grandfather and great-grandfather – grows and extends with the family as well. With the time that passes, the father becomes more respected, more consulted, more integral to the whole, which includes kin and members outside the immediate children and their children.
Often the children and the grand-children will take up either the same profession as the father, or one complementary to it. The knowledge of the father, his experiences and gifts are passed on, so to speak, through the generations, enriching not only the family but the village, the region, and sometimes even the country. His honors of achievement, be he a dairy farmer, a carpenter, a doctor, or a politician, define and belong to the entire family. Thus, along time, the father becomes a kind of small feudal lord of his extended family that includes numerous kin and members. When you have a Catholic man like this and an extended family that meets around him, you have what I call a Catholic patriarchal family.
To be a member of such an organic and Catholic family is great blessing and offers tremendous stability to its members. Obviously, life in such a family is still not without sacrifice and suffering, but they are far outweighed by the joy, security and vitality the family unit provides.
I used to describe to students at the university this kind of family and relationship, which is the special fruit of Catholic principles applied to society, particularly as they existed in the Middle Ages. I tried to explain that it would be easier to cut off my arm and have it exist by itself unconnected to the body, than for a member to be cut off from this type of family. It was a concept outside the experience of most young people, who exist only as individuals, who rush out to get an apartment and make their own life without the collateral support the family normally would give them. They have to “find themselves,” with all the anxieties, insecurities and uncertainties that accompany this unnatural process.
It would be interesting to discuss further the Catholic extended family as a solution to the crisis of the modern family and society, to find examples, present and past, of such families and the great vitality and stability that characterize them. I only introduce the idea here, to present a model ideal toward which families can strive. Certainly one thing to think about in looking toward such an ideal is the question Dr. Bray is so wisely considering years before the decision will be made: Do I really want to send my children far off to school or into their own apartments with friends at age 18?
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