At the same time as universities meet their obligation to help students into the university, they have an obligation to contribute to people outside the university. Ex Corde Ecclesiae notes the importance of continuing education in extending teaching and scholarship outside the university to the benefits of those who are not degree students.
This reminds us of the extent to which the university exists for reasons other than its own particular ends – most obviously, for the truth, for the dialogue between faith and reason, as a contributor towards the evangelisation of peoples. And on the level of social engagement too, universities exist for others. Universities are major repositories of knowledge, centres of original thought, research and invention, drivers of innovation – and they do rely upon public finds and student fees. The obligation to serve society by making knowledge available, easy to obtain, open to community input is clear.
Through its teaching, dissemination of research, public program of engagement, lectures and other activities universities serve the community, both locally and nationally. Catholic universities also possess extraordinary energy and potential for evangelisation. As groupings of academics and students at an institution professing Christian inspiration, Catholic universities contain the knowledge and dynamism for cooperation, and leadership, with bishops and Church agencies in opening up the dialogue with the culture, forwarding evangelisation, serving the needs of people and their communities, and above all, witnessing to the harmony-in-action between faith and reason.
The commitment to help more people in the community discover and access university, and then to send our people out from the university back into the community, is an investment by every university. Specifically, Catholic universities add to this work the zeal that comes from lived and public commitment to truth, faith and reason, fidelity to the Church. Some of us will be more involved in this work than others, and sometimes we will shy away from some parts of it, and hopefully excel at others. But it is a reminder perhaps that when other universities offer pathways and continuing education as part of their ‘mission’, that word is Jesus Christ’s word and it refers to the mission-ing or sending-out in which at his last appearance on earth he instructed his disciples: go out now; find them; bring them home and make them my friends.