“The Quest” airs March 27-31 at 10 p.m. Central Time on EWTN.
Looking at the general state of student life in America’s colleges and universities today for any indication of the future of our culture, there is cause for concern.
Skyrocketing rates of depression. Addiction to real and online substances. A feeling of hopelessness and fear. Generation Z, born after 1996, are, we are told, “digital natives”, with no memory of a world without smartphones. Although they are enrolling in college at higher rates than previous generations, they have borne the brunt of pandemic-induced school closures during high school’s most formative years.
Unfortunately, our culture at large is not much better. In a world where apps and algorithms fuel popular discourse, where online outrage is the norm, and all semblance of shared moral standards is fading, it’s no surprise that we sometimes wonder aloud if all this is even worth saving.
For Christians, despair is not an option. The gospel message at its heart is that of redemption, salvation, and hope for our eternal destiny. For Catholics, the Church calls us to always be “on mission”, a call particularly necessary in our time and in our culture.
Catholic universities have a unique and special mission in the renewal of culture. As a formative bridge from childhood to adulthood, universities and all that they entail – professors, campus life and culture, residence halls – play a formative role in the intellectual and character formation generations of students. As Saint John Paul II writes in Ex Cord Ecclesiae of his own university education, “I myself have been deeply enriched by… the ardent search for truth and its selfless transmission to the youth and to all who learn to think rigorously, to act justly and better serve the humanity”.
At the University of Dallas, we always think deeply about how to do this well, training students in truth and wisdom through a common core curriculum, drawn from the great works of Western and Catholic tradition, so that they are properly equipped to pursue their vocations, both personal and professional. After all, an excellent and rigorous Catholic liberal arts education not only prepares its students for professional success, but also to be culture shapers who strive for excellence in all things and who, finding themselves in leadership roles, will navigate in the unpredictable waters of the future.
But we are also committed to thinking about education more broadly; on how to offer those who are past their university years the opportunity to engage with ideas and issues central to our humanity, society, and the discernment of our own vocations and callings throughout our journey in life. This outward-looking mission is at the very heart of what Catholic universities should be as “incomparable centers of creativity” for the “diffusion of knowledge for the good of humanity”, as St. Paul II.
This call to educate for the good of humanity is why The questa documentary-style series produced by the University of Dallas, is so timely.
As a university whose mission is to educate students of all backgrounds, we are uniquely placed to help Catholics and all people of goodwill beyond their college years to understand the roots of today’s challenges. today and to provide them with the intellectual resources to meet them with confidence and courage. Many of us in our professional lives have the advantage of receiving high quality continuing education, whether in medicine, engineering, law and accounting. But how often do lay Catholics offer trustworthy intellectual and spiritual formation of the same caliber?
Building on the University’s long tradition of excellence in liberal arts, great books, and Catholic education, we launched the Catholic Faith and Culture Studies program three years ago, on which The quest is based on free online video courses to educate and inspire Catholics and others who seek such training later in life. While there is no shortage of online content available to anyone seeking to understand and deepen their faith, in the age of YouTube the burden of verifying trustworthy and sometimes cacophonous voices falls on the public. And, if reputable sources are found, too often they fail to communicate the beauty of faith in a way that takes into account the breadth and depth of our Western intellectual tradition.
What The quest seeks to remind us is that we are all on a beautiful but perilous journey, seeking to better understand our purpose and our own unique calling in today’s culture.
Drawing on the breadth and richness of the Church’s history, tradition, literature, philosophy and Sacred Scripture, The quest aims to delight and teach, delivering engaging narratives woven from clear and substantial insights from our exceptional faculty. They are the unsung heroes of this culture-building work, focusing daily on the task of guiding students on their own journeys to wisdom and truth. We hope that those who watch this series will discover the joyful purpose of their own lives, ultimately, as sons and daughters of God.
Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D., is president of the University of Dallas, professor of philosophy, and author of the book “Before Virtue: Assessing Contemporary Virtue Ethics.” Learn more about Quest.UDallas.edu.