INTERVIEW: Integrating Faith & Science at Catholic Polytechnic University
October 13, 2020. Including Friendship with Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Dr. Jennifer Nolan Shares Important Novelties of Catholic Polytechnic University.
Integrating faith and science. An always debated question, which often seems to be a contradiction, but which informed Catholics know is not.
This is the brilliance of the Catholic Polytechnic University, in Los Angeles, California, which has responded to this need.
Here, Dr. Jennifer Nolan, President of the university, shares about the university’s rich offerings, supported by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and its Archbishop Gomez, who also serves as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
To reveal more about all the news of this new unique university, especially relevant and meaningful as the world grapples through the worst pandemic in more than a century, ZENIT has spoken with Dr. Nolan. Here is their conversation:
ZENIT: What is the vision of Catholic Polytechnic University?
Catholic Polytechnic University (CPU) is a Catholic institute of technology. Our mission is to form scientists, engineers, academics, and technology leaders with expertise in business and theology. CPU combines a deep quest for STEM and business expertise with the enduring truths of the Catholic faith.
ZENIT: Where are you now in formation?
CPU has devout Catholic NASA scientists and engineers, successful corporate executives, and top theologians on our team. We are excited to offer our first class in Cybersecurity Fundamentals starting October 14, and registration is still open. Our first undergraduate program is planned for Fall of 2021. We are in the process of finalizing a Facilities Use Agreement with Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead, California for the use of their STEM-focused campus (https://www.boscotech.edu). And we are forming partnerships with corporations for student apprenticeships.
ZENIT: Tell us about how Catholic Polytechnic University came to fruition.
Catholic Polytechnic University (CPU) was born out of need. For centuries, Catholics have provided exceptional Liberal Arts higher education, and yet the divide between faith and science/technology has grown. According to Pew Research Center, many ex-Catholics even cite this perceived disconnect as their primary cause for leaving the Church. Formation of young Catholics in faith and science is essential for the New Evangelization.
ZENIT: Do you have personal experience with the gap between faith and STEM degrees?
Yes, two of my kids would like to be scientists and engineers, so where in the Western U.S. will they go to college? To a secular college where they may be talked out of their faith, or to a Liberal Arts Catholic college where science, engineering, and technology are not the focus? I find other Catholic parents and students struggle with the same conundrum. We Catholic parents seek an affordable, STEM-focused, Newman Guide college for our kids.
Seeing this need, using my background in academia, and dedicating much prayer, I felt the Lord calling me to build CPU, serving Christ and the Church I love.
ZENIT: How is CPU unique?
It was created to integrate faith and reason, as most Catholic universities are. But CPU’s emphasis is on providing STEM and business degrees, grounded in Catholicism.
Its students will be leaders in high science/technology fields, academia, and the Church.
CPU’s purpose also includes its commitment to an affordable and high-quality STEM education. Because of this core principle, CPU is to be accessible to all Catholics and all people regardless of faith, income, and wealth status. In doing so, we embrace the innate dignity and abilities of the human person.
ZENIT: How has the Archdiocese of Los Angeles supported you?
After developing a core team and strategic plan, we met with Archbishop Jose Gomez and his team earlier this year, and the Archbishop was very supportive and enthusiastic. He gave us his blessing, an official letter of endorsement for our website and fund-raising efforts, and he will provide a member of his staff to be on our Board of Directors. We are so grateful for the support of Archbishop Gomez.
ZENIT: How will you uphold Catholic tradition?
We strive to be faithful to the Magisterium and principles that Saint John Paul II outlined in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, while furthering advances in science, engineering, and technology. These efforts are part of our plan to create a “sustainably Catholic” institution, to ensure that it never loses its Catholic identity.
ZENIT: Has a particular saint inspired you?
Saint Joan of Arc inspired me when she said, “It matters not whether the hand that holds God’s sword is big or small.” My hands are small, but this is the Lord’s project and He uses them regardless. We also petition St. John Newman because of his dedication to the ideal of Catholic higher education, St. Thomas Aquinas because of his scholarship, St. Thèrése of Lisieux because of her charity and endurance, and Blessed Carlo Acutis for his love of technology. And, of course, St. Anthony of Padua finds us everything!
ZENIT: How does the university promote and demonstrate the complementarity of the Catholic faith and science?
As Vatican Astronomer Br. Guy Consolmagno once said, “The more we learn of the created, the more we learn of the Creator.” This simple sentence so aptly describes how science can lead people closer to God through the investigation of His created.
At Catholic Polytechnic University, we plan to not only incorporate faith into every STEM course, but we also plan to have the Catholic sacraments, Masses, Adoration, and priests and nuns or a religious order on campus. I call it, “Catholic Immersion,” similar to language immersion, where the faith is joyfully, deeply, and richly experienced.
Further, we already have top theologians designing our faith and science curriculum. Our students will not only be STEM innovators, but also experts in the ethics of all they do, so they can guide innovation toward the ultimate good of humanity. Even Fr. Robert Spitzer of the Magis Center has donated curriculum for our use.
ZENIT: Have the words of the recent Popes on this complementarity also served as inspiration?
All three of our recent Popes have written on the complementarity of faith and science, giving us inspiration:
We first are guided by Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope Saint John Paul II’s seminal work on the nature of a Catholic University. Specifically, he states: “In the world today, characterized by such rapid developments in science and technology, the tasks of a Catholic University assume an ever-greater importance and urgency. Scientific and technological discoveries create an enormous economic and industrial growth, but they also inescapably require the correspondingly necessary search for meaning in order to guarantee that the new discoveries be used for the authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole. If it is the responsibility of every University to search for such meaning, a Catholic University is called in a particular way to respond to this need…”
ZENIT: How does this apply to Catholic universities?
In this context, Catholic universities are called to a continuous renewal, both as “Universities” and as “Catholic.” For, “What is at stake is the very meaning of scientific and technological research, of social life and of culture, but, on an even more profound level, what is at stake is the very meaning of the human person”. “Such renewal, as John Paul II reminds, requires a clear awareness that, by its Catholic character, a university is made more capable of conducting an impartial search for truth, a search that is neither subordinated to nor conditioned by particular interests of any kind.”
ZENIT: Have the Pope and Pope Emeritus’ focused on this?
Pope Emeritus Benedict, referring to words of St. Albert, reminds us “that there is friendship between science and faith, and that scientists can, through their vocation to study nature, follow an authentic and absorbing path of sanctity.”
“Technologically advanced societies must not confuse their own technological development with a presumed cultural superiority, but must rather rediscover within themselves the oft-forgotten virtues which made it possible for them to flourish throughout their history. Evolving societies must remain faithful to all that is truly human in their traditions, avoiding the temptation to overlay them automatically with the mechanisms of a globalized technological civilization. In all cultures there are examples of ethical convergence, some isolated, some interrelated, as an expression of the one human nature, willed by the Creator; the tradition of ethical wisdom knows this as the natural law.”
Pope Francis has also been an inspiration in Laudato Si’ in which he exhorts people to combine the search for truth, beauty and justice with the advances of technology.
ZENIT: What about his words resonated in this case?
“Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads. We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity”. The modification of nature for useful purposes has distinguished the human family from the beginning; technology itself “expresses the inner tension that impels man gradually to overcome material limitations”. Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications? How could we not acknowledge the work of many scientists and engineers who have provided alternatives to make development sustainable? …Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used.”
ZENIT: What are the end goals?
The end goals of Catholic Polytechnic University include the development of faithful Catholics in science, technology, engineering, math, academia, and business who are world-class in their understanding and application of both their faith and their chosen fields.
We envision our graduates in well-paying careers who are leaders in their fields and who can provide well for their Catholic families. We want our graduates to be able to influence the direction of STEM fields with regard to ethics. Graduates will be both innovators in business and professors in academia, who can articulate and defend the Faith. Further, we want to help rebuild the membership of the Church through higher education, by retaining and strengthening its members and calling others to convert, as many people are called to conversion to faith through reason.
ZENIT: What have been the fruits so far?
There has been substantial national interest in attending, teaching at, and serving this unique Catholic Polytechnic University. For example, a survey announcement on LinkedIn in 2020 yielded interest from nearly 13,000 individuals across the USA. “Our society definitely is hungry for truth. This would provide so much value and help foster professional development for Catholics,” wrote survey respondent Matthew Chicoine.
In addition to having a core team of top-notch scientists, theologians, academicians, computer scientists and engineers, our Advisory Board is also truly exceptional, as they are experts from all walks of life.
ZENIT: Who is CPU targeting?
CPU is primarily for students and parents who wish to deepen their relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ in the Catholic tradition and who wish to make a difference in technology and science fields. Homeschool, Catholic high school, transfer, and public-school students are all prospective Catholic Polytechnic students. Additionally, we will be targeting professionals seeking career changes, specializations, or adult faith formation (e.g., STEM ethics).
ZENIT: How can I learn more or get involved?
If you want to help out, please got to our website. We are in need of benefactors and foundations to donate, corporations for partnerships, and applications from potential Catholic professors. Potential students can fill out our website survey to get on our mailing list. Catholic Polytechnic is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so donations are tax-deductible, and the Cares Act has provided more benefit to donating before the end of 2020. Please pray for Catholic Polytechnic University!