Catholic Intellectual Tradition

As part of its mission, ACCU assists its members in fostering a vibrant Catholic identity within their institutions. This guide to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition is designed to assist administrators, faculty, staff, students, and others interested in the tradition that underlies our colleges and universities, as well as others who want to learn about it.

The resources here include presentations by ACCU President Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D., that highlight the main themes of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, as well as links to resources offered by ACCU member and affiliate institutions. We welcome your comments and suggestions for additional material. Contact us at or (202) 457-0560.

ACCU is beginning an initiative to explain the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and encourage faculty to integrate this rich and living approach to knowledge into their teaching. The products of this effort will include a teaching guide to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, which can be used by faculty across many academic fields. We also plan a database that will feature exemplary applications of the Catholic tradition in lectures, course assignments, and course syllabi, as well as a bibliography. Questions? Contact ACCU.



Catholicism aims for an understanding of the world around us, in an effort to bring people closer to God. Given that, it is no surprise that intellectual pursuit has been a hallmark of the Church over the past two millennia.

In 2000, Monika Hellwig wrote, “Perhaps the most fruitful way of thinking about the Catholic Intellectual Tradition is in terms of two aspects: the classic treasures to be cherished, studied, and handed on; and the way of doing things that is the outcome of centuries of experience, prayer, action, and critical reflection.” The treasures, she explained, include certain classic texts, art and architecture, music, as well as developments in science and technology. “When these things are appreciated as part of the Christian intellectual heritage, they are studied in a way that tends to integrate the disciplines by relating everything to the meaning of human life in its relationship to the transcendent.”  CIT-graphic

The other aspect of this tradition, Hellwig wrote, is the way we have learned to deal with experience and knowledge in order to acquire true wisdom, live well, and build good societies, laws, and customs. Fundamental to this process is the understanding that faith and reason do not conflict. Rather, the continued pursuit of understanding leads ultimately to wisdom. The Catholic Intellectual Tradition invites us out of isolation and into a community whose cumulative efforts contribute to the construction of a whole—a wholeness that is a Catholic hallmark.

For Catholic colleges and universities, this component of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition is manifested throughout various academic fields—theology and philosophy, but also in the arts, sciences, and professions. Because the tradition is a living one, scholars are invited to examine contemporary issues and to help the body of Catholic thought grow and adapt.

  • See vol. 31.2 of the Journal of Catholic Higher Education for detailed discussion of how the tradition is evident in graduate business education.
  • Learn more about Collegium, an annual program for faculty and graduate students who want to develop their ability to articulate and enrich the spiritual and intellectual life of their institutions.
  • Download the Faculty installment of the ACCU Strengthening Catholic Identity series.

Today, a diverse set of Church documents informs the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and guides contemporary efforts: canon law, Ex corde Ecclesiae, the 2008 address to Catholic educators by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and more.


The Catholic Intellectual Tradition at Catholic Colleges and Universities, a presentation by ACCU President Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D. (PDF, 650 KB)
Big Questions and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, a presentation by President Galligan-Stierle to the Freshman Symposium at the University of St. Thomas (TX) in July 2015

Guiding Documents for Catholic Higher Education

ACCU Member-Maintained Resources

Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on Catholic Universities (August 15, 1990)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2001)
Catholic University of America, April 17, 2008
Encyclical Letter, Pope John Paul II
Catholic Identity, College of St. Benedict's / St. John's University
A description of how "the intellectual life of these campuses embodies and affirms the harmony of faith and reason in addition to the dignity of each person."
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition. What is it? Why should I care? College of St. Benedict's / St. John's University
An address given by William J. Cahoy, Ph.D. at the Fall Forum on what the Catholic Intellectual Tradition is and how all members of the academic community are instrumental in supporting it.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition, Sacred Heart University Press
Offers books and a video series focused on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition, St. Mary's University (TX)
Video of University President Thomas Mengler discussing Catholic Intellectual Tradition at his institution
Center for Catholic Studies, Seton Hall University
Dedicated to fostering a dialogue between the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and all areas of study and contemporary culture.
Center for Catholic Thought, Creighton University
Offers perspective on the contemporary Catholic Church from an Ignatian perspective; see especially the "Catholic Comments" podcasts.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition is one of the four focal issues of the Center, which offers a number of resources to explore the tradition. See especially the spring 2013 edition of C21 Resources magazine.
The Benedictine Intellectual Tradition: An Overview, Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities
The Rev. Joel Rippinger, OSB, Marmion Abbey, traces the features and sources of the Benedictine intellectual tradition.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities
Publications exploring the rich Franciscan intellectual heritage.
Integritas: Advancing the Mission of Catholic Higher Education, Boston College
A journal publishing the papers presented at each Boston College Roundtable, which brings together scholars and administrators from Catholic colleges and universities to discuss the vision and promise of Catholic higher education in the United States. 
Online resource directory to several documents on Jesuit education, including a focus on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
An intended starting point for conversation and reflection on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and its incorporation.
Resources provided to assist with the goal of preserving and contributing to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
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