The Catholic University of America

Archived June 2006

Faculty Handbook Part I (Issued January 2002)
The Government of the University
Charter Documents

Section 2: Canonical Erection


Approved by: Pope Leo XIII
History: Issued -- April 10, 1887 and March 7, 1889
Revised --
Additional History

Canonical Erection

Two papal letters confirmed the approval of the Holy See for the foundation of the University and erected it canoncally. In the first letter, Quod in novissimo conventu, given on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1887, Pope Leo XIII linked the project that he had encouraged personally with the ancient Catholic view of the harmony of faith and reason and with the new scholastic revival in Europe to which, as to so many related movements, he was giving strong impetus. His directives emphasized in particular the pontifical character of the foundation.

To Our Beloved Son James Gibbons, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church of the Title of Santa Maria in Trastevere, and by Apostolic Dispensation Archbishop of Baltimore:

Beloved Son, Health and Apostolic Benediction.

What Our Venerable Brethren, the Bishops of North America, assembled in the last Council of Baltimore, in the year 1884, proposed concerning the establishment of a University in your Republic, We learn from your joint letter of October 25th of last year that yourself and the other Bishops of the United States are now anxious to put into practical effect. And We have been especially rejoiced by this admirable manifestation of your faith, and by the sincere homage of your affection towards this Apostolic See, to whose patronage and care you have commended the University from its very first beginnings. For it has ever been the glory of the Pastors of the Church, and especially of her Supreme Pontiffs, earnestly to promote true knowledge, and studiously to provide that in her schools the sciences, and especially those of theology and philosophy, should be taught in conformity with divine faith, so that the forces of revelation and reason combined should form an invincible bulwark of faith. Hence Our Predecessors, always ardently solicitous for the education of Christian people in the past, spared no pains nor labor to found in the principal cities of Europe those celebrated institutions of learning, that is to say, those Universities which, in the middle ages and in the centuries following, enriched Church and State with multitudes of men of learning. For this same end, from the moment that the government of the Church was committed to Us, We have labored assiduously for the revival of learning, and directed our efforts especially to the restoration of the teachings of Saint Thomas and to establish them in the place of honor they held in the past; with this aim in view that, in the cultivation of the more important studies, while full account should be taken of all the results which the industry of learned men has skillfully and wisely attained to in recent times, the system of philosophy should be shaped according to the noble wisdom of the ancients, and follow with docile zeal in the footsteps of the Angelic Doctor. For there was no doubt what­ ever in Our mind that, this revival of the sciences once ef­fected, the study even of letters and of the other branches of human learning, joined with regard for religion, would redound greatly to the advantage of civil society.

The importance of this is made manifest by the dangers to whichyouth is exposed in European countries in our days; and your own acquaintance with the condition of things in North America cannot but have convinced you likewise of its very grave moment. For the unlimited license of thought and of writing, to which erroneous notions concerning both divine and human things have given rise not only in Europe but also in your country, has been the root and source of unbridled opinions; while on the other hand, with religion banished to a great extent from the schools, wicked men audaciously strive, by the craft of fallacious wisdom, to extinguish the light of faith in the minds of the young, and to enkindle therein the flames of irreligion. Wherefore it is necessary that youth be nourished more carefully with sound doctrine, and that those young men especially who are being educated for the Church, should be fully armed to fit them for the task of defending Catholic truth.

We therefore most gladly welcome and heartily approve your project for the erection of a University, moved as you are by a desire to promote the welfare of all and the interests of your illustrious Republic. But in order that this noble institute may be happily established and conducted to ever increasing prosperity, it must remain under the authority and protection of all the Bishops of the country, in such a way that its whole administration shall be directed by them through certain Bishops selected for that purpose, whose right and duty it shall be to regulate the system of study, to make rules of discipline, to select the professors and other officials of the University, and to ordain whatever else pertains to its best government. And it is fitting that whatever shall be estab­lished concerning all these things shall be presented to this Apostolic See for its approval. But as to the choice of the city in which the University is to be erected, We desire that counsel be taken with all the Bishops of the United States, and that the question be decided after the opinion of all has been asked.

Go on therefore, Beloved Son, together with all Our other Venerable Brethren the Bishops of the United States, to carry to perfection with one mind what you have begun; and let not any one of you be deterred by any difficulty or labor, but letall take courage from the assured hope that they will receive an abundant return for their cares and solicitudes, having laid the foundations of an institute destined to provide the Church with worthy ministers for the salvation of souls and the propagation of Religion, and to give to the Republic her best citizens. And we earnestly beseech Almighty God, that He wouldsend forth upon you Wisdom that sitteth by His throne, thatshe may direct the minds and hearts of you all; and as a pledge of the divine gifts, and a mark of Our good will, We most lovingly bestow upon you, Our Beloved Son, and upon all Our Venerable Brethren the Archbishops and Bishops of the United States, and upon all others who will aid you in this work by their liberality, the Apostolic Benediction.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, this 10th day of April 1887, in the tenth year of Our Pontificate.

LEO XIII, POPE

The second letter, Magni nobis gaudi, canonically erecting the University, noted its prospective opening in the centennial year of the establishment of the American Hierarchy. Since the United States was still considered to be "mission territory," the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had jurisdiction over it and it was to this Congregation that the proposed statutes and regulations of the University had been submitted for approval. It was at its initiative that the University was asked to accept students "to begin or to continue their studies," a request that the founders perceived as at variance with their intention to concentrate upon graduate education exclusively, but which developments of the succeeding two decades caused to be fulfilled in any case.

To Our Beloved Son, James Cardinal Gibbons, of the Title of St. Mary in Trastevere, Cardinal Priest of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Baltimore: and to Our Venerable Brethren, the Archbishops and Bishops of the United States of North America.

Beloved Son and Venerable Brethren, Health and Apostolic Benediction:

We find cause for great joy in the zeal with which you devote yourselves to the preservation of the Catholic religion and to the interests of your dioceses; to the providing of such equipment as may secure the proper formation of youth, both clerical and lay, and the teaching of all knowledge, sacred and profane, according to the rule of faith. Consequently, your letters towards the end of last year gave us great pleasure, since in them you informed us that the work of founding a University in the city of Washington is progressing successfully, so that through your care all things are prepared for the opening of the Theological School this year. From our Venerable brother, John Keane, Titular Bishop of Jasso, the Rector of the University, whom you sent to us, we have gladly received the statutes and regulations of the University, submitted by you to our authority and judgment. And in this matter we deem worthy of all praise your resolution to commemorate the centenary of the establishment of your hierarchy by making the opening of the University a monument and perpetual memorial of that most auspicious event. Desiring, therefore, to secure the fulfillment of your righteous wishes, we committed the examination of the Constitutions of your University, which had been referred to us, to the Cardinals of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, that they might report to us concerning them. Having heard their opinion, we willingly grant your request, and by our authority approve by these present letters the statutes and regulations of your University, and endow it with the rights proper to a lawfully­ constructed University. We grant, therefore, to your University power to confer academic degrees on students who shall have passed satisfactory examinations, and likewise to confer the doctorate in philosophy, theology, pontifical law, and those other studies in which the different degrees and the doctorate are usually conferred, whenever the teaching of these branches shall have been established. And we wish that you, Beloved Son, and you, Venerable Brethren, should exercise watchful care over the proper direction of studies, the preservation of discipline among the students in your University, either in person or through Bishops chosen by you to attend to this duty. And since, moreover, the See of Baltimore is foremost among the See of the United States, we confer on the Archbishop of Bal­timore and his successors the office and authority of Chan­cellor. We desire, in addition, that the plan or courses of studies, or the program of the branches taught in your Univer­sity, especially in so far as they relate to philosophy and theology, shall be submitted to the Apostolic See for recogni­tion and approval, and that all the departments of the University may be so ordered that young clerics and laymen may have an equalopportunity of fully satisfying their laudable desire for knowledge. We wish that among these departments there should be founded a school of Pontifical Law and Public Ecclesiastical Law, since we realize the great importance of these studies, especially at the present time. We exhort you all that you should take care to affiliate with your University your seminaries, colleges, and other Catholic institutions, according to the plan suggested in the Constitution, in such a manner, however, as not to destroy their autonomy. In order that a greater number may enjoy more abundantly the benefits of the teaching of the University in its various departments, let these schools, and especially the Schools of Philosophy and Theology, be thrown open, not only to those who have completed their studies according to the decrees of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, but also those who wish to begin or to continue their studies. Since, however, this University not only tends to the greater honor of your country, but also promises rich and salutary results both for the spread of sound doctrine and the defense of the Catholic religion, we have every reason for trusting that the faithful of America, with their wonted magnanimity, will not allow you to lack the help of their generosity for the glorious completion of this work now begun. And as the University at Washington is established by these our letters, we decree that no other institution of this nature shall be undertaken by anyone with­ out consulting the Apostolic See. We believe that these pre­sent declarations and ordinances of ours will be a clear proof of the zeal and solicitude with which we desire that the glory and prosperity of the Catholic religion in your country may be advanced from day to day. We earnestly implore the most Mer­ciful God, from whom comes every good and perfect gift, that He may direct your undertakings to a prosperous and happy out­ come, and as a presage of all celestial gifts we most lovingly impart our Apostolic Benediction as a token of our sincere affection for you, Beloved Son, for you, Venerable Brethren, and for all the clergy and the faithful over whom you preside.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, on the seventh day of March, Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1889, the twelfth year of our Pontificate.

LEO PP. XIII