Religious affiliation shapes communities on campus

Recently, Roncalli High School Guidance Counselor Shelly Fitzgerald was put on administrative leave after the school was informed that she was married to another woman while working at the Catholic-affiliated institution, according to an article by USA Today. This event attracted national attention and sparked questions about religiously-affiliated schools and their power and causation for terminating employment. The University of Indianapolis and other religious affiliated schools differ in the way they structure their expectations around religion, as there are different levels of affiliation in educational institutions.

According to Roncalli President Joseph Hollowell, gaining employment with Roncalli includes a contract with the school that resembles a code of conduct for religious matters. Part of this is a ministerial job agreement that describes in-depth the expectations of the employees and how those expectations relate to the religious mission of the school. Hollowell said that this is a set of agreed-upon expectations regarding living a life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. All archdiocesan schools use this contract, and the articles are not specific to Roncalli, but rather a general contract that all archdiocesan Catholic school employees agree to, according to Hollowell.

“The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has a legal team that assumes responsibility for preparing the contract language and ministerial job agreements that are both a part of those contracts for teachers and guidance counselors who serve at Catholic schools throughout Central and Southern Indiana,” Hollowell said. “All archdiocesan Catholic schools use the contract…. Dismissals are handled in concert with the archdiocesan human resources department and, for school personnel, in concert with the superintendent’s office.”

Graphic by Johana Rosendo

According to Special Assistant to the President  for Mission Michael Cartwright, UIndy’s philosophy about religious affiliation differs from that of Roncalli or other religiously-affiliated schools. He said there are many different approaches that each school can take. A school or church can adopt an orthodox, critical-mass, intentionally pluralist or accidentally pluralist approach when defining itself as a religiously-affiliated institution. Roncalli and other Catholic schools that are archdiocesan-approved are orthodox, meaning that all statutes of the Catholic faith are directly incorporated in to the education and culture. He said that UIndy would be considered intentionally pluralist, meaning that the values of the church are open to interpretation, and other religions and ideals are welcome. Cartwright said that the way UIndy defines hospitality stands out among other schools in the intentionally pluralist category. UIndy’s philosophy of hospitality is derived from a practice from Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out, which states that “hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy,” according to Cartwright.

“[UIndy aims] to encourage respectful inquiry and to have an honest exploration of things in a quest for the truth.…” Cartwright said. “I try to avoid all-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking in reference to these matters, might be more characteristic to the orthodox pattern, would say that all differences are fundamental differences and we cannot cross those lines. So the lines have to be really firmly made and freedom exists inside of the lines but not across them.… The intentionally pluralist [approach], which is the one that we [UIndy] display, shows a desire to have Christianity exist and to have Christian practices on campus, but alongside the practices of other religious traditions and with the belief that other religious beliefs can also contribute to what it is that we are trying to do as a religiously-affiliated institution.”

Junior nursing major Kaycee DeLong graduated from Roncalli in 2016 and said that the school is an environment where she was able to explore her Catholic faith. At UIndy, she said the religious culture has been very different, and her everyday life does not have as much of a connection to her Catholic faith.

“We went to an all-school mass once a month and we began the day with prayer, prayed as a school before lunch and had a religion class once a day to learn more about our faith.” DeLong said. “The religious affiliation at UIndy is different than at Roncalli because it hasn’t had [as] much of an impact as Roncalli did on me. At Roncalli, I practiced my faith everyday almost like a routine, but at UIndy I’m encouraged to learn more about other religions rather than just the Catholic faith.”

According to Cartwright, UIndy is more focused on the exploration and joining of different religions and cultures, while more orthodox affiliations take scripture more literally with less room for discussion.

“If all differences are ultimate, and we are talking about homosexuality, you’re right or I’m wrong, and there is no ambiguity,” Cartwright said. “So a difference that is ultimate is a difference that is there is no room to talk. If there are differences that we can be puzzled about, then there is not only room to talk, but there is a need to talk and we can learn from one another in the midst of conversation. In the midst of talking, we are about the mission of the university which is to achieve better understanding. Certainly, Christians disagree about homosexuality. Certainly, Muslims, Hindus, and folks in a variety of traditions disagree, but how do we hold those differences?”

As religiously-affiliated schools continue to provide education for students and staff of all beliefs, Hollowell said that Roncalli will continue to focus on its mission to educate Christian leaders and to fulfill their potential as lifelong learners.

“Our relationship with God, our church and each other are at the heart of our mission statement, which is a living document at Roncalli,” Hollowell said. “The mission statement guides our strategic planning, which identifies the steps we plan to take to continue to grow as a school. Most Christian organizations believe that growth comes from prayer, faithfulness to Christian principles and actively engaging members of our communities.”

According to Cartwright, the mission of UIndy as it pertains to religion, is to educate students about hospitality that allows open conversation and exploration of religious principles and religiously-affiliated organizations will continue to coexist among the principles of each type of affiliation.