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Seton Hall University
A priest laughing with students outside the Chapel of Immaculate Conception.

Seton Hall: A Catholic University


Seton Hall is a Catholic, diocesan university, serving a predominantly Catholic student body but open to people of all faiths.

Its founder, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, believed in Catholic Christianity as handed down through the centuries. The woman who inspired him, Elizabeth Ann Seton, was a person of deep charity and faith. For over one hundred and fifty years, Seton Hall’s faculty and students have followed them as examples and guides. We reaffirm that founding faith today: a faith rooted in the infinite love of the eternal Father for all people and in the manifestation of that love in Jesus Christ and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

These Christian beliefs, articulated by the Church and celebrated especially in the Eucharist, oblige ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. Indeed, since God seeks the salvation of all, Christian belief impels us to enter into dialogue with all persons of good will and to join with others in the search for truth.

Seton Hall has always understood its Catholicism to be an enabling vision calling us to discover all that is best and authentically human in God’s abundant creation. We welcome other Christians, other believers, and other persons of good will in a shared journey to God, mindful of the words of Pope John Paul II:

A Catholic university… can offer a contribution to ecumenical dialogue. It does so to further the search for unity among all Christians. In inter-religious dialogue it will assist in discerning the spiritual values that are present in the different religions.1

Those values have been, and continue to be, at Seton Hall’s core.

We are Catholic in many ways: by the instruction we offer in our classrooms, by the creative faith and love of our members, by the public proclamation of our beliefs, and by our grace-filled search for the truth. We include in our priorities a mission of service to the Catholic Church of Newark and our neighboring dioceses, working in a frank and confident collaboration with fellow Christians and others to promote the spiritual, human, and social development of all people. We are aware of our own need for continuing moral formation, constant self-examination, improvement, and correction. We recognize and cherish in an especial way our institutional fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church. In our relations with ecclesiastical authority we respect the responsibility of the Magisterium while affirming our own autonomy and academic freedom 2.

Precisely as Catholic, we see such freedom as constitutive of our dignity as human persons. Our enabling vision confidently encourages debate, dialogue, and disagreement. A university without such debate would hardly be a university at all.

Fundamental Identity and Sense of Purpose

As any university, Seton Hall strives to be an institutional embodiment of human critical intelligence, a community of sound judgment, personal decency, and intellectual integrity.

Here, as elsewhere, knowledge is sought and shared, the intellectual virtues are cultivated, and the worth of ideas is probed anew. A true university, John Henry Newman reminds us, is one in which:

All branches of knowledge are not isolated and independent one of another, but form together a whole or system. They run into each other and complete each other. The process of imparting knowledge to the intellect in this philosophical way is the university’s true culture. Such culture is a good in itself, and together with the knowledge which effects it, it may be sought for its own sake. It is of great secular utility, constituting the best and highest formation of the intellect for social and political life. In its religious aspect, it concurs with Christianity.3

Critical judgment is especially the prerogative of free persons. Christians have never been spared vigorous disagreement and debate in their pursuit of truth. Therefore, along with our commitment to values goes our commitment to the freedom to search for knowledge and truth. This freedom is a necessary part of an institution which embodies the human mind’s autonomy. Seton Hall is committed to the principles, ideals, and practices of academic freedom and affirmative action. Nothing set forth here is in any way meant to deny, restrict, or circumvent the rights and responsibilities of any individual which are within the framework of academic freedom, affirmative action, and other civil rights.

Since this University is free and autonomous, it chooses to commit itself to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Teacher. As a Catholic university in community with other such universities throughout the world, Seton Hall embraces the principles eloquently set forth by Pope John Paul II in Ex corde Ecclesiae:

Since the objective of a Catholic university is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture, every Catholic university, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:

  1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;
  2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;
  3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;
  4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life. 4

Even before these words were written, Seton Hall’s Board of Regents had pledged itself to institutional renewal and deepened Catholicism. The Board endorsed the proposal of a 1988 task force on Catholicity:

We recommend the appointment of administrators and the recruitment of faculty who understand and honor Seton Hall University’s fundamental Catholic identity… [T]he University [should] support the predominance of the presence of persons within the administration and faculty who adhere to the community or tradition of the sponsoring body, provided that others are not systematically excluded.

This has been an abiding principle ever since.

The Choice and Advocacy of Values

Every university is an enterprise in education and a venture into the collective history of the human family.  As the world grows more complex, and as the store of human knowledge increases exponentially, the effort to convey a sense of the whole becomes ever more difficult.  In the university, students draw on the body of human knowledge, expressed through various cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions; reflect on the trends of history; learn how to use intelligence creatively and critically; and acquire some measure of competence as educated persons. It is a sophisticated process of the cultivation of the intellect and those virtues which support it: clarity, honesty, patience, humility, perseverance, and integrity.

Since its founding, Seton Hall has made, and continues to make, moral education a priority of the first rank. A Jewish-Christian perspective on the long and continuing journey of humankind requires that as a university we bring religious traditions and values into every aspect of our common life. An education worthy of the name must always be infused with faith, hope, and love. To be sure, we are imperfect creatures. Our reach often falls short of our ambition. From time to time we fail. Still, we must try, and try again, to live out our great calling as people of faith and honest inquirers.

No pursuit of knowledge is exempt from these efforts. The study of ethics, the quest for social and economic justice, the debates concerning political theories, the analyses of the economic order, the uses of the natural sciences, the conduct of business, the practice of the professions, and the creativity of the arts — all are moral efforts. A university cannot provide all the answers to a myriad of moral situations, but no true university can avoid confronting the problems themselves. Life on campus should be a crisscross of questions about the values we live by.

Catholic universities play a unique and special role as bearers of, and witnesses to, the Jewish-Christian moral heritage. Far from being a finished product, this moral heritage must be appropriated and lived out anew by each generation, and must be augmented and advanced by discussions and debates within universities. As John Paul II reminded the leaders of American Catholic Colleges in his address to them in New Orleans in 1987:

Catholic higher education is called to exercise, through the grace of God, an extraordinary “share in the work of truth” (3 Jn 1:8). The Catholic university is dedicated to the service of the truth, as is every university. In its research and teaching, however, it proceeds from the vision and perspective of faith and is thus enriched in a specific way.5

In more recent times, Pope Benedict XVI has also spoken of the integration of faith and reason that lies at the heart of Christian education:

[T]he truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another…. The Church’s mission, in fact, involves her in humanity’s struggle to arrive at truth…. With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where a secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality…. Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good.  Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being…. Far from being just a communication of factual data — “informative” — the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing — “performative” (cf. Spe salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others.6

Catholic universities have much to offer in this regard. In a world increasingly dominated by materialism, scientism, and greed, the Catholic university stands ready to defend the weak, the vulnerable, and the despised. Seton Hall has never wavered in its commitment to the socially marginal. Its Catholicism demands no less of it.

All members of the university community participate in this task, but faculty members are especially entrusted with it. The President and administration must give leadership, the campus ministers and student affairs staff must offer their services, but it is the faculty above all who must speak most clearly about life’s goods and their proper ordering. Unless university teachers are themselves integrated persons, we can surely expect disintegrated graduates. In the matter of values, the silence of a teacher makes a sound. By saying little, we teach that moral questions are unimportant or are purely private.

Nor should we imagine that academic freedom is somehow incompatible with such a commitment to moral education. Freedom of enquiry and expression are, of course, at the heart of any university; but without moral education, that freedom runs the risk of becoming a hollow formula for asserting no position at all. With freedom comes responsibility — the responsibility, for instance, to render coherent moral judgment. At Seton Hall, we strive for an atmosphere in which intellectual debate and dialogue serve to enlighten, guide, and refine our moral vision, without compromising intellectual integrity or our commitment to Jewish-Christian values.

Of course, all universities must play a part in confronting the great issues of human life on local, national, and international levels. Catholic universities do this in particular ways: by creating an environment that reflects a commitment to justice; by probing the roots of racism, consumerism, violence, and discrimination; by exploring the nature of human rights; by speaking with authority of the “good life”; and by offering, in a spirit of humility, the wisdom tradition. In this generation, as in others, Seton Hall once more commits itself to these essential and challenging tasks.

Curriculum Revision

In recent decades, many colleges and universities have seen the disappearance of a coherent view of education, and in many institutions of higher education formerly well-developed core curricula have disintegrated.

Since 1988, the University has been guided by a key recommendation of a task force on Catholicity:

We recommend that the University and college undergraduate core curricula be revised to ensure that every Seton Hall student has the opportunity to learn about the intellectual traditions of Catholic Theology and Philosophy. In consultation with the Departments of Religious Studies and Philosophy, the University should require several courses in both Catholic Theology and Philosophy. We realize that this will require additional faculty resources.

Since this recommendation was made, the individual colleges and schools of Seton Hall University have revised their core curricula and a university-wide core curriculum has been developed and launched.  Consisting of two three-credit courses, plus a third course that is specific to each major discipline, the new university-wide core curriculum structures the encounter of every undergraduate student with the central texts of Western civilization and the Christian tradition.

It is hoped that the new university-wide core curriculum, the great questions it invites, and the perspectives it proposes will ultimately have a transformative effect on all courses and programs.


The Catholic Bishops of the United States have observed:

Community is at the heart of Christian education. From a Christian perspective, integral personal growth, even growth in grace and the spiritual life, is not possible without integral social life. To understand this is a high form of learning; to foster such understanding is a crucial task of education.7

The importance of community is also reflected in John Paul II’s Ex corde Ecclesiae:

A Catholic university pursues its objectives through its formation of an authentic human community animated by the spirit of Christ. The source of its unity springs from a common dedication to the truth, a common vision of the dignity of the human person and, ultimately, the person and message of Christ which gives the institution its distinctive character.8

Community involves a four-fold connectedness: a connection to one’s own self, a connection to others, our connection as a community to common problems, and, finally, a connection to the ground of our being which is the realm of the Sacred.

Such a spirit of connectedness marked by freedom, respect, and charity must characterize Seton Hall. Each individual joins in the community and opens him- or herself to others. Likewise, the members of the community show one another mutual respect. It is this respect which should govern relationships among the various members: administrators, staff, faculty, and students. It will be promoted in practice by taking pains to ensure that lines of communication are open to everyone and that everyone has an opportunity to contribute toward decisions which affect the community.

At a time when extreme individualism is a threat to the common good, and certainly to the healthy life of the body of Christ, Seton Hall must live and teach community. Its conduct of affairs must do more than pay lip-service to human rights and dignity; it must foster compassion and care for others.

What does the most to reveal God’s presence is the fraternal charity of the men and women of faith who are united in spirit as they work together from the faith of the Gospel and prove themselves a sign of unity.9

The need to live and teach community holds true for all ethnic and cultural communities as well, for community has a healthy respect for difference and diversity. This requires those human virtues of congeniality: civility, humor, balance, and trust. There is no community, after all, if its members do not work to respect religious, racial, and cultural diversity.

Finally, Seton Hall has responsibilities to the communities of which it is a part. Its caring for neighbors and fellow citizens should be made visible by the services it offers, and its concern for the well-being of the various communities of faith should be manifest by its dedication to the work of all men and women of good will.

The rights and obligations of all members of the university community should be clearly stated and appropriate procedures established to deal with conflicts regarding these rights. Moreover, with all due regard for authority and for proper confidentiality, all members of the university community have the right to participate in the basic decisions affecting the governance of the University.


It is imperative that a Catholic university acknowledge and express its position in a world that has become more interdependent. Where hunger, epidemic, and violations of human rights and human dignity are all too commonplace, Seton Hall must strive to bring a Christian perspective and Gospel values to these urgent and, in some ways, worsening world concerns. Since Seton Hall graduates are expected to translate their education into creating a better world, they must be offered opportunities to discover and experience that potential while they are here. The university community is responsible for creating the appropriate environment for meaningful service and personal commitment.

We desire to call attention to the fact that scientific competence, technical capacity, and professional experience, although necessary, are not of themselves sufficient to elevate the relationships of society to an order that is genuinely human, that is to an order whose foundation is truth, whose measure and objective is justice, whose driving force is love, and whose method of attainment is freedom.10

We at Seton Hall acknowledge our responsibility to strengthen human bonds and to do so most particularly by continuing the service that we have historically offered to the education of the poor and disadvantaged. We resolve to address the need to promote the dignity and advancement of disadvantaged groups.

For many Christian communities, faith is built upon the sharing of the Eucharist. For Catholics, the central expression of community is the celebration of the Eucharist which should be widely available. Equal care must be given to ensuring the excellent quality of all liturgy and common prayer.

Since the beginning of Seton Hall, the priests on campus have been called in a particular way, as teachers and pastors, as healers and helpers, to be signs of the transcendent dimension of faith. The need for such priestly ministry is now more pressing than ever. This commitment to service also highlights the necessary work of the priesthood of all believers, that is, the ministry and service to which all men and women of faith are called.

The presence of the Immaculate Conception Seminary and the School of Theology on the Seton Hall campus provides special opportunities to coordinate efforts through which the community can share in our religious and cultural heritage. The Seminary’s faculty, graduate and undergraduate programs, its many certificates and other offerings make it an extraordinary resource for the religious development of persons and groups in the Archdiocese of Newark, as well as the other New Jersey dioceses in their service of the people of God.

Current Initiatives

Currently, a variety of academic and non-academic programs and initiatives exist at Seton Hall that advance its Catholic mission. They include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Catholic Theology
  • Bernard J. Lonergan Institute
  • Campus Ministry
  • Center for Catholic Studies
  • Center for Vocation and Servant Leadership
  • College Seminary (St. Andrew’s Hall)
  • DOVE (Division of Volunteer Efforts)
  • FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students)
  • G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture
  • Human Relations Council
  • Institute for Christian Spirituality
  • Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies
  • International Institute for Clergy Formation
  • Jewish-Christian Studies Department
  • Micah Institute for Business and Economics
  • Office of Mission and Ministry
  • Sister Rose Thering Endowment

This document was approved by the Board of Regents on 25 August 2009.

End Notes

  1. Pope John Paul II, Ex corde Ecclesiae, Par. 47.  The Pope echoes the words of the Congress of Catholic Educators that met in Rome in 1972, words that were quoted in the 1988 version of Seton Hall: A Catholic University: “Catholic universities can do much to promote ecumenism and the on-going dialogue with those of other religions and [persons of no religious persuasion], both by preparing persons qualified to participate in serious inter-faith discussions, and by providing an atmosphere favorable to their success.”
  2. cf. The Catholic University in the Modern World, II, B.
  3. cf. John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, edited, with introduction and notes by Martin J. Svaglic (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), 161-162.
  4. Pope John Paul II, Ex corde Ecclesiae, Par. 13, citing The Catholic University in the Modern World, Par. 1. The latter document was cited here also in the 1988 revision of Seton Hall: A Catholic University
  5. Pope John Paul II, “Address to Leaders in Catholic Higher Education,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 23, 1987, Par. 4.
  6. Pope Benedict XIV, “Address to Catholic Educators,” Washington, DC, April 17, 2008.
  7. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Letter on Catholic Education, 1972, Par. 24.
  8. Pope John Paul II, Ex corde Ecclesiae, Par. 21.  Here the Pope echoes The Catholic University in the Modern World, Par. 37: “A Catholic university pursues its objectives in two ways; it engages in academic activities … and at the same time it strives to form an authentic human community …. The Catholic university community finds its unity in a vision of humanity and of the world which on the one hand flows from a common cultural heritage, and on the other, from the person and message of Christ.”
  9. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, Par. 21.
  10. Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, April 10, 1963, Parr. 148-149.