Building Catholic Culture 

News: Commentary
by Paul Brock III  •  •  October 27, 2022   

A third-millennium necessity 

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Pope John Paul II once declared, "The Church counters the culture of death with the culture of love." 

A Catholic culture is an educated culture. Better put, Catholic culture is based on proper education. But that education renders itself worthless if it's not applied on a practical level.

The third millennium's call for the Western man is to organize real Catholic communities that oppose the Culture of Death. Far from an isolated and passive society, a truly Catholic culture doesn't hide — rather, it seeks to convert. 

Catholic culture is rooted in reality. And this alone — that is, natural law — disrupts a hedonistic and murderous society. 

Integrated Humanities Program

A decent example of this countercultural movement is the lesser-known Integrated Humanities Program (IHP). Founded by three Catholic professors at the University of Kansas, the program flourished from 1972–1977. 

John Senior

According to one of the program's founders, John Senior: 

IHP is not a course, not the running through of a prescribed sequence. ... It is not an attempt to advance knowledge at all, but rather ... to read what the greatest minds of all generations have thought about what must be done if each man's life is to be lived with intelligence and refinement.

Senior wasn't just some random Catholic professor. At a secular university during the sexual revolution, Senior proved to be a revolutionary figure in the realm of education. He went to war against the vicious relativism that poisoned the minds of KU's students, professors and administrators. 

During the five-year span in which the IHP prevailed, over 200 students converted or reverted to Catholicism. Many even went on to become religious, priests, abbots and bishops. 

John Senior

Before helping launch the humanities program at KU, Senior had been Catholic for just over a decade. He came into the Church in 1960 at Cornell University, where he was teaching at the time. Through reading Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo and John Henry Newman, Senior discovered the authentic Western tradition. 

Though he happily entered the Church at Cornell, something was still missing. Senior found himself at one of the top 10 American universities, but he remarked that it was "led by an intellectual elite that had been perverted by Existentialism and Phenomenology."

The end of education is the perfection of each person.

Senior believed the new intelligentsia of the Left rejected all reality, and he couldn't remain in that environment. He packed his bags and fled West, "where people's minds were not as corrupted," he recalled. 

He ended up living on a ranch and teaching at the University of Wyoming, but he would later move to Kansas, where he seemed to make his biggest impact. 

The IHP was an experiment at first — brand new to the university (and academia in general). 

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In sum, the IHP project turned into a great success at KU; there were close to 300 students enrolled by its third year. Students in this program were there in the midst of the demonic "free love" movement and had their minds opened to reality. 

Senior stated that he, along with his colleagues Frank Nelick and Dennis Quinn, focused on the "growth of the person both in intellect and will." Unlike the mechanical and technical approach to learning, Senior added that the "end of education is the perfection of each person." 

Conversion Stories 

Several students who went through the IHP at KU became Benedictine monks and eventually founded Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. In fact, the current Abbot of the monastery, Br. Philip Anderson, was a student in the program. 

On top of that, the IHP produced a pair of Catholic bishops as well. James Conley of the diocese of Lincoln and Paul Coakley of the archdiocese of Oklahoma City were roommates at KU and were both students of the humanities program. 

(L to R) Bp. James Conley and Abp. Paul Coakley were
roommates at the University of Kansas and described
themselves as "'70s kids."

Conley converted to the Catholic faith while he was in the program, and Coakley, while already a Catholic, had his faith enlivened through the IHP. 

Bishop Conley told Catholic News Agency (CNA) in 2019, "We students began to look deeper into those perennial questions. And for many, like myself, it led us to our faith and to the Catholic Church." 

Likewise, Abp. Coakley told CNA, "It was an incredibly effective program, in terms of awakening a sense of wonder in students and a love for learning." 

There are plenty more examples of notable alumni from the program, including Dr. Robert Carlson, the current president of Wyoming Catholic College.

And there would have been more if the program hadn't been cut from KU due to its effectiveness. 

The Left's Battle Against Reality 

Because the program was leading college students to attend Holy Mass instead of getting high at rock concerts, the IHP was attacked left and right. It was accused of being a "vehicle for converting students to Roman Catholicism." 

IHP takes a stand against many of the causes fashionable in the modern university.

These accusations, namely, that the humanities program was luring "unsuspecting or unaware students into the Catholic Church," were ultimately found to have no truth behind them.

The program never attempted to convert per se because it was rooted only in nature, reality and ordinary human experience. But it necessarily led students away from the relativistic and hedonistic culture they were in. 

Even though the program was vindicated over and over, the onslaught kept coming, and the program ended up having to close. 

Dr. Ryan Messmore

A group of students defended the program and identified what they thought were the main reasons for the attacks: "IHP takes a stand against many of the causes fashionable in the modern university: pornography, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, zany new religions, communism, moral relativism, existentialism, the extremes of feminism and secularized Christianity."

IHP is not a perfect counterculture, but its dedication to the natural law in the midst of constant onslaughts ought to inspire Catholics in the 21st century. 

To learn more about building a Catholic culture, watch this week's Mic'd Up, wherein Kyle Kopy interviews Dr. Ryan Messmore, President of Magdalen College. 

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