US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Blessed are the peacemakers

By Heather Grennan Gary | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The first Catholic college to launch a peace studies program was Manhattan College in New York, which opened its Pacem in Terris Institute in 1965, offered its first interdisciplinary peace studies class a year later, and had an undergraduate major under way by 1971. Early in the program's development, Pope Paul VI took notice and sent his blessing, along with a message to the Institute's organizers encouraging the "efforts for education for peace" that were taking place.

While peace studies have long been offered at schools affiliated with historic peace churches (Church of the Brethren, Quaker, and Mennonite), as well as some nonreligious schools, Catholic institutions have experienced a remarkable growth of peace studies programs in the past several decades, in no small part because of an emphasis by recent popes and bishops on the centrality of peace, as well as the enthusiasm of students and faculty.

"I came into this field because of a strong commitment to my faith and to the church," says Ronald Pagnucco, chair of the peace studies department at the College of St. Benedict-St. John's University in St. Joseph, Minnesota. "I've been impressed with a lot of the statements that have come out of Rome and from the U.S. bishops."

In particular, Pagnucco points to a section of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II's 1990 document on Catholic universities: "A Catholic university . . . as an extension of its service to the church . . . is called on to become an ever more effective instrument of cultural progress for individuals as well as for society. Included among its research activities, therefore, will be a study of serious contemporary problems in areas such as . . . the promotion of justice for all . . . the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world's resources."

"I thought, ‘Wow, this is great stuff,' " says Pagnucco, who came to peace studies from sociology. "It reaffirmed that this kind of research, this kind of concern for the world and for the poor, is what a Catholic university should be doing."

Father William Headley, C.S.Sp., dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, agrees. "Any school that calls itself Catholic builds on Catholic social teaching, and justice and peace is a hallmark of that," he says. "It's hard to find an embodiment of that hallmark as practical as a school or a program deliberately designed to address conflict, development, human security, and human rights. We are considered a real asset to our academic community."