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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

CSC faculty start Catholic Social Tradition research lab

The principles of Catholic Social Tradition (CST) are broad, encompassing such ideas as solidarity, care for creation and rights of workers.

Implementing those principles can be difficult, visiting professor of Catholic Social Tradition and community engagement Clemens Sedmack said.

Sedmack and Bill Purcell, an associate director in the Center for Social Concerns, began to develop the idea of a CST research lab, to investigate how CST can play out in the real world. A model was MIT's Poverty Action Lab, which experiments with different ways to alleviate poverty.

I thought that since poverty labs are a neat thing, and since one of the weaknesses of Catholic Social Tradition is abstractness, why don’t we think about establishing a CST research lab, experimenting with CST on the ground, exploring the question of what difference does CST make if you really implement in a particular context, be this an institution such as a hospital, be this a context like a parish, be this a structural question such as the structure of a diocese, things like that, Sedmack said.

Using funds from a Global Collaboration Initiative grant from Notre Dame International, Sedmack and Purcell organized a conference at the Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway to set up the lab and create a network of academics and practitioners of CST from schools in Europe and North and South America.

Purcell said each of the 26 participants wrote and presented a paper on an aspect of CST, ranging from Pope Francis’ impact on Catholic social thought to Brazilian universities’ efforts to decrease inequality. What emerged, according to a summary, was the goal to create an organization that provided resources to people trying to enact Catholic Social Teaching, a community of people for whom CST is an important part of faith and a way for people working on disparate issues around the world to talk to each other.

So for instance, can we have better hospitals? Purcell said. Because we can use CST principles in Catholic hospitals, and that would be a way of making hospitals better, and maybe they’re doing that already in a place like Germany — can that work in a place like Chile? Or what can we learn from Brazil? What can they teach us in North America about CST?

Sedmack said one principle on which the lab will operate is dialogue, both between Catholics and non-Catholics and among Catholics themselves.

You have to be open to non-Catholics, non-Christians, non-religious people, because many employees of agencies are not religious but they do wonderful work, and they live solidarity, and they live ‘option for the poor’ even though they may not have any religious dimension to their lives, so it’s important to have this kind of dialogue,” he said. “Dialogue also among Catholics because it’s no secret that Catholics are to be found in a wide spectrum of theological opinions.”  

Another principle is experimentation, like the kind Sedmack does in his own courses. Last year, he said he had a student group change one aspect of their lives according to Laudato Si, Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment.

In the next several weeks, Purcell and Sedmack will recruit a steering committee for the organization and find funding for pilot projects, such as a tool to help businesses and archdioceses ethically manage their finances. In the future, they may also develop a website with resources for implementing CST and recruit participants from Africa and Asia.

The issues a CST research lab could address are many, Purcell said. They range from homelessness around the world to just wages to the quality hospital care to the purpose of holy people in teaching others how to live.

“Catholic Social Tradition is how we are we living this out, how do we be a guide by providing those resources as a network to help evangelize the world?" Purcell said.