The college system ~ Card. Newman

Trinity College, cloudy dayAlthough the Catholic University of Ireland did not prosper the articles Fr. Newman wrote on the nature of a university and the colleges offers good insights on the best setting for higher education, that is, the small group and individual nature of education. In this article Newman focuses on the former and delineates the characteristics of a college. It is more than a common residence for students. It requires “a charter, or an endowment, some legal status, or some ecclesiastical privilege, is necessary to erect it into the Collegiate form.” It is a home away from home that involves “the same virtuous and paternal discipline which is proper to a family and home.”

A college requires an endowment for its maintenance and buildings, but not just any building: “buildings of a prominent character; for, whereas every family must have its dwelling, a family which has a recognized and official existence, must live in a sort of public building, which satisfies the eye, and is the enduring habitation of an enduring body.”

The above traits respond to the nature of a college: “It is all, and does all, which is implied in the name of home.” As such it provides youth with the room and board, companionship and moral guidance necessary for learning. Newman is quite frank and direct: “It is the place of training for those who are not only ignorant, but have not yet learned how to learn, and who have to be taught, by careful individual trial, how to set about profiting by the lessons of a teacher.”

Furthermore a college plays an intangible yet very real role in the life of a student providing him with the social identity and human bonds needed by every person, and not only for the present but for the future once a person leaves the university. A college “is the shrine of our best affections, the bosom of our fondest recollections, a spell upon our after life, a stay for world-weary mind and soul, wherever we are cast, till the end comes. Such are the attributes or offices of home, and like to these, in one or other sense and measure, are the attributes and offices of a College in a University.”

In a historical sense Colleges are a continuation of the monastic or clerical schools. Although the latter observed an ecclesiastical rule they sometimes admitted laymen called externs. This was the case in the early days of the school of Rheims, and also of Bec. As universities developed monastic Orders sought to have colleges exclusively for its own members in the universities and to have faculty members in the respective university faculties. Newman enumerates the various religious Orders soon represented at Paris and Oxford.

“Thus in Paris, as soon as the Dominicans and Franciscans had thrown themselves into the new system, and had determined that their vocation did not hinder them from taking degrees, the Cistercians, under the headship of an Englishman, founded a College near St Victor’s; and the Premonstrants followed their example. The Carmelites, being at first at a distance from St. Geneviève, were planted by a king of France close under her hill. The Benedictines were stationed in the famous Abbey of St. German, near the University Pratum; the monks of Cluni and of Marmoutier had their respective houses also, and the former provided lecturers within their walls for the students. And in Oxford, in like manner, the Benedictines founded Durham Hall for their monks of the North of England, and Gloucester Hall for their monks of the South, on the respective sites of the present Trinity and Worcester Colleges. The Carmelites (to speak without book,) were at Beaumont, the site of Henry the First’s palace; and St. John’s and Wadham Colleges are also on the sites of monastic establishments. Besides these, there were in Oxford houses of Dominicans, Franciscans, Cistercians, and Augustinians.”

According to Newman the monastic orders closed their doors to those who were not monks and thus it became common for laymen to seek out houses where a Master without any assistant Tutors offered a whole course of instruction. This tradition continued and led to the formation of places variously called halls, inns, courts, or hostels. The Professor taught and gave board to his students. One example at Oxford was the Torald schools during the reign of Henry the Third. In the early twelfth century Theobald had from sixty to a hundred scholars under his tuition. The studies in grammar initially lasted twenty years which was later reduced to ten years. The course of Arts were an additional six years. Universities did not have buildings of their own or endowments. Since the conditions for poor scholars was dismal a movement soon arose to provide maintenance for poor scholars.

Newman quotes an account of the students’ schedule from one of the colleges at Cambridge: “He (the student) got up between four and five; from five to six he assisted at Mass, and heard an exhortation. He then studied or attended the schools till ten, which was the dinner hour. The meal, which seems also to have been a breakfast, was not sumptuous; it consisted of beef, in small messes for four persons, and a pottage made of its gravy and oatmeal. From dinner to five p.m., he either studied, or gave instruction to others, when he went to supper, which was the principal meal of the day, though scarcely more plentiful than dinner. Afterwards, problems were discussed and other studies pursued, till nine or ten; and then half an hour was devoted to walking or running about, that they might not go to bed with cold feet;—the expedient of hearth or stove for the purpose was out of the question.”

Many benefactors established colleges for poor clerks or offered scholarships. As early as 1050 Robert Capet established one for as many as one hundred poor clerks. Other colleges were St. Catherine in the Valley, founded by St. Louis, the Collegium Bonorum Puerorum, the Harcurianum, or Harcourt College, the College of Navarre in Paris, the Sorbonne, and Montague College. Many diocesan or provincial colleges were founded as well as national ones.

Newman notes that there were graver reasons for establishing colleges than to meet the needs of poor scholars, namely that of providing youth with necessary discipline and moral restraints. He explains how the licentious conduct at Oxford and Cambridge (of his time) where a strong Collegiate system existed suggests how the case might be where students’ impulses were unrestrained.

This description of the development of Colleges in the Universities indicates how their establishment sought to meet real needs faced by students: material as well as moral, and to protect them from the dangers to which youth were exposed. When Newman began the Catholic University of Ireland he organized small colleges to meet these needs. Each college residence had a Tutor and older students who helped the younger students. The colleges provided opportunities for religious worship, spiritual life and a healthy moral environment. This together with the mutual friendship and conversations between students served as the foundation for human growth and learning. By taking from the best of medieval tradition Newman was able to offer the Catholic University of Ireland, and now to all universities, a model of college life within universities.