Skip to content
Home » Blog » The Mission and Purpose of the Catholic University

The Mission and Purpose of the Catholic University

The Mission and Purpose of the Catholic University

‘An Invitation and Hope to Humanise the World’

The mission and purpose of a ‘Catholic University’ will be non- controversial and generally understood by some. But the concept of ‘Catholic education’ is often confusing and challenging territory for others in Higher Education. One detects an air of mistrust in some conversations where the mission of the Catholic University is mentioned because oftentimes it has been placed in a context where it is referred to only as part of the ‘history’ of a university’s past rather than a central aspect of its present.  For some, branding a university as Catholic today might be seen as a hindrance to progress and a source of concern.

We have to allow this concern to be part of the conversation, however, in order to see how the rearticulation of the mission and purpose of the Catholic university needs to take place and from what point it needs to begin.  Courageous conversations can be seen as a necessary and beneficial aspect of repositioning and making for the case for the Catholic university.  We cannot move forward if we do not listen to find out from where we need to begin. In order to do this, however, there is a genuine need to rearticulate the mission from an intellectual point of view but to also locate it in the pressing and demanding HE context of today’s global HE environment. 

When we look around the world right now, we see loneliness, addiction, isolation, poverty, vulnerability and general global unrest – where the divide between rich and poor is getting ever more pronounced. Many people would like to help but don’t know how to do this or even where to start. Education is perhaps the most powerful place to begin. The desire to be a force for change and goodness is part and parcel of the ‘why?’ of the Catholic Universities. These universities are not engaged in ethics and the study of human dignity or social justice because of market trends or sector demands; rather, their raison d’être is, as Fisher (2023) points out, to prepare ‘intelligent, well-instructed people to act well in this life and to serve the betterment of self in society’ (p. 408). In other words, the Catholic university engages in the search for goodness and truth because this is its true nature and mission.

Far from what popular opinions might be in the minds of some about branding a university as ‘Catholic’ (and we must engage with the reasons why these concerns exist here too), when the central mission is rearticulated and presented as an opportunity for everyone at the university – staff and students –  a different perspective emerges. This perspective is a vision or ‘brand identity’ inviting us to journey together towards a shared goal of offering ‘education for hope’ for the betterment of all in society.

The Catholic university must obviously adhere to sector norms, regulations and trends – and learn from others as it grows itself – but it is called to take an additional step. And this step is very ambitious because it is asking the universities to not simply award degrees but to shine across the global educational landscape and seek to ‘pass on a system of values based on the recognition of the dignity of each person [..]’ (Tolentino Medonça [unpublished paper], p. 3). This is often complicated by the fact that the sector itself it so demanding and finding time to lead universities strategically by their ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ is time consuming and often resource intensive – especially if it involves training and upskilling staff in what the mission is about.

But in a hopeful vein, however, this mission is very inspiring to many – once it is articulated positively. Many feel motivated to understand more and to take up projects that align with the vision of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, for instance, where everyone is called in a special way to work for the ‘authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole’ (ECE 7). This involves creatively, debating and engaging in respectful and robust dialogue about ‘how?’ we get there. It also invites us to take time to reflect more authentically on how this can be done in the current HE climate. This is where Heft’s 2021 work is helpful when he asserts that we should see the mission of our universities as being both ‘distinctive’ and ‘open’ at one and the same time (Heft 2021). Put simply, Heft reminds us of the need to see the mission as a constant conversation and dialogue with everyone who works and studies at the Catholic University.  The conversation will involve discussion about the continuation of what has gone before and an ambition to grow and develop towards a better future – informed by best practice in the sector – in the hope that ‘humanising the world’ is what will result. The overarching hope is that the graduates who have benefited from the ‘all round’ education they have received from their programme of study will serve the economy and the world.  In short, there is hope that the next generation of business people, journalists, health care professionals, doctors, nurses, philosophers and others will emerge from their discipline as skilled professionals with a ‘conscience’ that serves the common good not only in their own contexts but one which has a contribution to make to the world too! 

Discussing values on a global stage requires skills, cultural competencies and expertise around how to have those ‘brave conversations’ about global ethics and the policies which governments should seek to promote for the betterment of everyone in society is no easy task. But in a world that is talking about values more than ever before and engaging in the global search for truth and better living overall, there is hope!  We often hear mindset coaches telling us that ‘in order for the world to be better, we have to first “believe” it can be better.’  Having a ‘vision’ therefore is vital to drive forward ambitions for a better world. Those ambitions begin by us feeling inspired by, and learning from, those who lead and teach us in schools, colleges and universities to make a difference where we can to humanise the world. Having hope for a better and more humane world is a key driver for actually making that hope a reality.  Working alongside others will be key to finding a community which is authentically ‘encouraging real involvement on the part of each and all’ (Pope Francis, October 9, 2021) –   irrespective of whether they are persons of faith or otherwise.  The Catholic University therefore is a place of welcome for ‘all persons of goodwill’ and seeks to ‘dream the world differently’.  Therefore, let us dream!


Fisher, Anthony, OP (2023).  ‘Newman and the Religion of the Future.’ New Blackfriars. Vol. 104 (1112), pp. 397-413.

Cardinal José Tolentino Medonça, ‘What the Church Expects from Catholic Universities.’ Holy See. [unpublished paper].

Pope Francis (2013). Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. 24 November. 

Heft, James (2021). The Future of Catholic Higher Education.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *