Building a global Catholic social tradition network

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Bill Purcell, Senior Associate Director for Catholic Social Tradition, Center for Social Concerns, September 24, 2018.

The Catholic social tradition remains a true gift from the Church to the world. The Center for Social Concerns is attempting to share the fruits of that gift. During the decade and a half I worked for the institutional Catholic Church on social justice issues, from the Archdiocese of Washington to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of Chicago, I often heard that the Catholic social tradition (CST) was a secret within the Church.

The position as a Church insider was to get the message of CST known and spread. My vocation was to be an evangelist for CST. Presently at Notre Dame I have the opportunity working with my colleague, Professor Clemens Sedmak, to form a CST Global Network and do just that.

Since coming to the Center for Social Concerns thirteen years ago, I have watched CST become institutionalized as part of Catholic Higher Education, with the development of numerous CST centers, journals, and endowed professorships. The growth remains a welcome sight. Now CST is often used as a keystone of the Catholic identity of academic institutions, which is interesting since CST was developed as a bridge language for engaging the world about faith in action.

CST is integrated within the mission, teaching, and research of the Center for Social Concerns. Each year, the center plans its programming around a CST theme so Notre Dame students are exposed to the depth and breadth of Catholic social tradition. It has done well articulating and developing CST within the University, and it has become known nationally in the area through the biennial CST conference, annual lectures, and the development of articles and resources. The next frontier for the center is expanding the impact of CST internationally.

Last year Professor Sedmak and I organized a CST conference at the Notre Dame Global Gateway in Rome with professors and practitioners from fourteen countries with the purpose of launching a CST Global Network. The participants were all Catholic, and we gathered in a very Catholic setting within the shadow of the Vatican. The goals were to look at ways that CST can assist in finding solutions within areas as yet unexplored, and to form relationships to accommodate in the expansion of engaged CST.

This past March at the London Global Gateway, Professor Sedmak and I gathered scholars and practitioners from throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland to further this CST Global Network and see how CST can assist in creating a more just and humane world. The meeting was a gathering of Catholics in a majority Protestant context. CST was viewed by the UK participants as a way to connect to the wider global community regarding justice issues. Within the British context there was some disagreement on the issues which needed to be approached.

The next step is to have a CST conference this fall in the interreligious context of the Jerusalem Global Gateway at Tantur. The focus will be on the environment due to the complexities of the context. This conference will begin in Jerusalem the first day, move across the wall to Bethlehem for site visits the second, and then back to Tantur the last day in order to develop the steps for an open source interfaith-influenced course on the environment.

For 35 years the Center for Social Concerns has been a living well for social justice nourishing leaders for personal and communal transformation. As our world becomes smaller, the Center can be a leader in gathering, forming, and nourishing academics and practitioners to use the Catholic social tradition as a means to cross the bridges of injustice throughout our world with a CST Global Network.


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