A new four-year co-ed Catholic liberal-arts college opened its doors this academic year with the mantra, “Wisdom in God’s Country,” 35 students, and a whole lot of faith. Wyoming Catholic’s president, Rev. Robert W. Cook, took some questions from National Review Online’s editor Kathryn Jean Lopez about the hows and the whys of the new school.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How did God’s country get so wise?
Rev. Robert W. Cook: God’s creation has always been a source of truth and Wisdom for those willing to look. Our outdoor program — learning leadership with the acclaimed National Outdoor Leadership School — puts our students into direct contact with God’s “First Book” where they will experience for themselves the Wisdom to be known in His creation. At the same time, they will find Wisdom in the best that has been written and thought in Western civilization by studying the great and good books. It is to these thinkers that our students are guided and from whom they learn. Our claims that both kinds of Wisdom are present at a college in Wyoming is to recognize that any place of learning surrounded by quiet, beauty and majesty is to be preferred over a world of noise and distractions.
Lopez: What’s “wisdom” at Wyoming Catholic?
Rev. Cook: To know the Truth that sets us free: the highest Truth, God, and all lesser realities in light of God. In an age of relativism, WCC wants its students to know that there is truth and it is accessible both through reason and through one’s faith, and not just reason alone or faith alone.
Lopez: Couldn’t you get more creative than “Wyoming Catholic”?
Rev. Cook: Our name is a distinctively “Wyoming” name: it is clear, honest, and to the point. It perfectly captures the three dimensions of the school: learning in the outdoors of Wyoming, being Catholic without apology, and being a college where one learns how to learn, how to think and communicate, which are all the foundational skills necessary for any future occupation or career our students may undertake.
Lopez: Aren’t there enough schools? Why start another?
Rev. Cook: There are never enough good schools and certainly not in the categories of the liberal arts, or Catholic education, or in coming to know and understand reality through immersion in nature. As Dr. Bill Bennett put it, “I would say out of all the hundreds of institutions of higher learning in our country, there are maybe a dozen like Wyoming Catholic College where you can get a traditional liberal arts education.” Other institutions might teach their students how to get a job, but very few are prepared to teach them to be a “whole” person, as God intended. WCC has also made Ex Corde Ecclesiae an integral part of its constitution. Few schools calling themselves “Catholic,” can truly claim to be followers of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution. Finally, WCC takes seriously its claim to educate the whole person, body, soul, and spirit. And so, its outdoor adventures and equestrian programs fulfill the third dimension necessary for the education of the whole person: an aspect often unaddressed in our country’s institutions of higher learning.
Lopez: What makes you distinct?
Rev. Cook: We provide an environment of true education in authentic freedom, a “freedom” that liberate through the pursuit and discovery of the Truth and does not deteriorate into “license.” Parents who send their children to WCC can be assured that at they have been entrusted to a community of faculty and staff that will help those children become better people; a community where they will be encouraged and guided to become a more thoughtful, deeper person, and one where they will be equipped to meet any future challenges they may face in the world. Many colleges speak of educating the “whole person” but we are one of a very few that truly believes we can deliver on that promise.
Lopez: Are you better than other Catholic schools?
Rev. Cook: To be honest, because most Catholic schools do not adhere fully to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, I do believe that we are better that most. Our theology professors have a mandatum from the Ordinary of our Diocese, Bishop David Ricken. All of our Catholic faculty are required to take an oath of fidelity to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church and must promise to remain faithful in their practice of the faith. Our students truly experience an environment of spirituality that is steeped in the Catholic Tradition, Catholic theology, the Eucharist, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and personal and liturgical prayer. All this at least makes WCC truly and authentically Catholic, and that’s better than otherwise!
Lopez: Are you a model for other schools in some way?
Rev. Cook: I would be pleased if that turned out to be the case. The number of prospective students that have contacted us points clearly to the tremendous thirst and need for the Catholic, classical liberal-arts education that we offer, combined with an outdoor program that helps students find themselves and immerse themselves in their studies without the distractions of too much technology.
Lopez: What are your accreditation goals, plan?
Rev. Cook: We are in the process of seeking full accreditation with both the American Academy for Liberal Education and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. We hope to receive an accreditation status from AALE within the next 18 months which will allow for credit transfers. North Central, which requires a significantly more complex process before granting such an accreditation status, will take a bit longer.
Lopez: How do you get bigger?
Rev. Cook: We plan to build our permanent campus on a 2,300 acre ranch adjacent to Lander that was donated to the College by a most generous benefactor, and have begun the Genesis Mission Campaign to raise the capital funds necessary for its construction. Once we have completed Phase I of this permanent campus, we can move from our interim campus in Lander, which will allow us to accommodate a much larger numbers of students. As for the students themselves, we know many young people who have expressed an interest in applying for this upcoming school year. And, given the nature and number of these inquiries, it seems certain that there will be no lack of students seeking the quality and nature of the comprehensive education which we can provide.
Lopez: What kind of professors do you seek to attract?
Rev. Cook: First and foremost they must be truly great teachers. Wyoming Catholic College is not seeking great scholars for the sake of scholarship alone, but people who truly know how to teach, making the good of the students their primary focus. Obviously they need to be liberally educated for the sake of interdisciplinary integration, as well as completely competent in their own fields, the better to teach our courses in theology, philosophy, humanities (literature and history), art history, music, Latin, the principles and methods of mathematics and science, and the trivium (writing, reasoning, and public speaking). Perhaps it is not surprising that in a world of excessively specialized and, (dare one say), lifeless higher education, WCC has already received scores of inquiries from teachers who love what we are doing and have asked if they can be part of it.
Lopez: What makes a Wyoming Catholic student? Who should apply?
Rev. Cook: We say that people of average intelligence who genuinely desire a well-rounded education and have steadfast determination to do all that is asked by their professors and their studies can succeed here. We welcome home schoolers, as well as those who have attended parochial and public schools. Young men or women should apply if they are eager to learn the wisdom and traditions of Western Civilization, know the rules of reality that apply in our natural world — God’s first book — and live their Catholic faith in an integral way, drawing on the riches of Catholic tradition. If this is what they seek, they can find it here, and it will serve them well for the rest of their lives.