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Catholic Conundrum: Percentage of Catholics at DePaul lower than other Catholic universities

By Eva Green
On March 12, 2012

A study of student faiths at DePaul, deemed the largest Catholic University in the nation, has concluded that Catholic students are not the majority at the school.

Statistics gathered by the Institutional Research and Market Analytics strategy group illustrate that while 33 percent of students at DePaul declare their Catholic faith, nearly 45 percent of the student body do not identify themselves as being part of any sort of faith-based religion.

Although "First Things Magazine," a publication through The Institute on Religion and Public Life, ranked DePaul the "Least Catholic Catholic School" in past years, it is undeniably the largest Catholic university by enrollment with 25,398 total students, 8,314 of which identify as Catholic.

St. John's University follows closely behind with 21,354 students, and as of 2010, reports a higher percentage of Catholic students with 46 percent of its students identifying as Catholic, compared to the 33 percent at DePaul.

Senior finance major, Adam Belkalrous, identifies as Agnostic and despite his Catholic upbringing said, "I go to church when my parents force me."

Senior mathematics and economics double major, Michael VanDorpe, who serves on the Pastoral Council, is a liturgist assistant and facilitates student mass, said although DePaul may not have the highest number of Catholic students; its identity is illustrated through its Vincentian values, "values of service and to the poor."

VanDorpe also admitted that the founding values at DePaul, based on the practices of Saint Vincent de Paul, are found in many faiths and are often "universal values to humanity."

"While we are a Catholic University, we are not the Catholic Church," he said while describing DePaul as supporting diversity in a way not always accepted by the Catholic Church such as issues within the LBGT community.

VanDorpe said this inclusion is one way that the university is projecting its Vincentian values which includes "respecting who people are…and how they are born is important…" He described DePaul as keeping up with its Catholic tradition in many ways, such as offering religious services at the school.

"People don't necessarily always see it, but it's always there," he said.

DePaul offers prayer, meeting and meditation rooms to support its diverse religious community. Course offerings at DePaul include Catholic Studies but also extend to other teachings of Islam and Judaism.

"So at DePaul, there are Catholic chapels on our campuses allowing Catholic students to have daily Mass, but there are also Islamic prayer rooms; a space for Hillel, the Jewish student organization; a place for the Buddhist students to meditate, and a place for other Christian organizations to gather," said Jay Braatz, Fr. Holtschneider's chief of staff.

Students of the Muslim faith constituted 2.7 percent of the DePaul student population, followed by 2.6 percent of students that identify with the Lutheran faith.

The study of student faiths at DePaul also concluded that 2.3 percent of students identified themselves as Christian Orthodox, 2.3 percent as Baptist, and 1.9 percent of the Jewish faith.

The DePaul Institutional Research and Market Analytics group, which released the student data, facilitates research and supplies information to support decision-making and program development at the university. It is also responsible for administering student surveys, conducting demographic analysis, enrollment predictions, financial examination, and outcome analysis for future planning purposes.

"The diversity of our community enhances the learning experience of our students, and allows them the opportunity to experience an environment that mirrors the world around them," said a statement from Fr. Holtschneider's office. "We endeavor to fulfill the mission we established at our founding: to teach, serve, and respect individuals of all ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds."

Denzel Blocker, a sophomore and entrepreneurship major, said DePaul's Catholic identity "did not influence my decision at all" in attending the school. Blocker does not identify with any religion and said, "what influenced my decision was proximity to the city and resources that being in a city provides."

Blocker described urban business opportunities, internships, and jobs as factors that piqued his interest in attending DePaul. He also said "DePaul is definitely diverse" and upholds the school's Vincentian mission through its services, organizations, and his Egan Hope scholarship, which is dependent upon serving the poor.

"Being an Egan [scholarship recipient] you have to have a commitment to leadership and social justice," which Blocker said requires not just community service, but advocacy for causes that affect marginalized communities.

"Since its founding, and in keeping with its mission, DePaul has been known for welcoming students and employees from all ethnicities, religions and backgrounds," Braatz said. "Indeed, there has been no time in the university's history that DePaul has required students or employees to declare their religious affiliation."

DePaul said it maintains its title as the largest Catholic university because of its large student body and the values that the school was founded on: diversity, spirituality, high-quality education, and service to poor and marginalized communities.

"The Vincentian fathers and brothers saw a need and established DePaul to provide a high-quality education to Chicago's early immigrants, minorities and women… We respected religious pluralism at our founding, and it is a legacy that endures to this day," said DePaul's president's office in a written statement. "There has never been a day in DePaul's history when it was a university only for Catholics."

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