When I became president five years ago, I believed that character education and virtue formation are helpful foundations upon which to base our educational approach especially since it is clear these areas undergirded the pedagogy of Saint John Baptist de la Salle. I find it even more true today, with all the many challenges we face in society today. To this end, I believed it would be valuable to create a brief document to explain our university-wide initiative in character education and virtue formation. This Position Statement, the product of collaboration by faculty and staff throughout the university, seeks to introduce our particular approach at Saint Mary’s as well as ground it in our Lasallian Catholic mission.
As I reread this foundational document, I believe that it still helpfully articulates the value of a university education that integrates a virtue-based approach to character formation. It goes without saying that the state of higher education is rapidly changing, yet some things offer timeless value. As Patrick Henry, a founder of our country, put it, “The great pillars of all government and of social life (are) virtue, morality and religion. This is the armor…and this alone, that renders us invincible.” Thus, a comprehensive university education, particularly at Catholic universities, cannot be limited to intellectual formation alone; it must engage the whole human person. Developing one’s character is about helping others to seek the good in all things. Virtue is about the practice of living a good life so we can become who we are meant to be. Our explicit focus on character at Saint Mary’s prepares our graduates to succeed by being ethical witnesses in various professions and to live flourishing lives.
Again, as Aristotle famously wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics, “the purpose of our examination is not to know what virtue is, but to become good.” This Position Statement, therefore, is intended to be put into practice. It serves as a guide for our other initiatives to integrate character and virtue throughout the academic curriculum and campus life. We have moved then from a singular initiative to a university program in Character, Virtue and Ethics. I could not be happier or more grateful for the progress that we have achieved during the past five years. I am even more hopeful for the future as we remain committed to this vision.
God bless you!
Rev. James Patrick Burns, IVD, Ph.D.
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota