New director says university’s Catholic Studies aims high in pursuit of faith and reason

| June 4, 2015 | 0 Comments
Michael Naughton

Michael Naughton

The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul tapped a man well versed in cultivating Catholic identity to direct its Center for Catholic Studies.

When Michael Naughton started at the university in 1991, his doctorate in theology and masters of business administration guided his work connecting the Church’s rich social tradition with modern business practices. In directing the Center for Catholic Studies, he’ll be at the helm integrating academia with faith among as many of the university’s disciplines as possible.

“Catholic Studies was never started to be its own discipline or enclave,” said Naughton, who had served as the center’s interim director since September and officially accepted the appointment in May. “It’s always attempted to be yeast and to connect to other fields and other areas.”

As the center’s director,  Naughton will oversee the center’s journal, “Logos”; the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought; the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership; and The Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy, a collaboration with St. Thomas’ School of Law.

Role of Catholic Studies

Despite its broad reach, Naughton said Catholic Studies is still a project in its infancy but forms its students into leaders able to link their faith with their professions and families, which Naughton called “a unity of life.”

Naughton’s work with colleague Robert Kennedy as a fresh faculty member in 1993 paved the way for their involvement with founding director Don Briel’s vision to develop a project incorporating Catholic principles into other disciplines. Because St. Thomas is known for its successful entrepreneurship, Naughton said Briel’s vision was to create a place for the university to try new things and not get lost in specialization. Naughton succeeds Briel as the center’s second director in its 20-year history. Kennedy oversees the Catholic Studies undergraduate and graduate programs.

The oldest and largest program of its kind in the country, Catholic Studies has attempted to bring together theology, philosophy, history and literature, as well as business and law.

“It’s not an alternative theology department,” Naughton said. “It’s an interdisciplinary way of being.”

Naughton is quick to point out that Catholic Studies is not the only program at St. Thomas that fosters Catholic identity. He noted that there’s “vibrancy” in the university’s other departments.

“There’s a lot going on, but Catholic Studies is attempting to really recover the specific contributions of the Catholic tradition, particularly in a way that’s fostering this interdisciplinary engagement,” he said. “And it needs to be in cooperation and collaboration with all the other entities within the university, otherwise it can be simply a club, and that would be the death of Catholic Studies.”

The center’s vision, he explained, is one expression of the renewal St. John Paul II envisioned in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” his 1990 document describing the mission and identity of a Catholic university.

Expanding reach

With support from the university’s administration and donors, Naughton said he’d like to see Catholic Studies delve into areas that might not be an obvious fit, including enhancing its Latino leadership program and relationship with engineering.

Naughton highlighted the center’s role in the new evangelization — finding new and creative ways of engaging people with the question of “how can we creatively and faithfully help people to bring the Gospel to the world?”

Catholic Studies has worked with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and with the United Nations’ Holy See offices in Geneva and New York. It is co-sponsoring a human and natural ecology seminar the first week of June to prepare bishops for Pope Francis’ message from his encyclical on the environment.

Naughton also recently was appointed to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic justice committee.

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Category: Faith and Culture