How does the University of Nijmegen struggle with its 100-year-old Catholic identity?

How does the University of Nijmegen struggle with its 100-year-old Catholic identity?

Radboud University Nijmegen was founded a hundred years ago this year as Catholic University Nijmegen, “to show that Catholics can actually do science”. The predicate “catholic” was already a point of discussion at the time and that hasn’t changed.

Theological college? The Dutch bishops were not expecting this at all. For example, the Catholic University of Nijmegen was almost founded in 1923 without training theologians.

Shortage of Catholic doctors

The bishops were satisfied with their seminaries, explains university historian Jan Brabers. If students for the priesthood had a talent for the sciences, they should go to Louvain or Rome, as they always did. But in order to award valid degrees, a university at that time had to have at least three faculties. It was certain that the new Catholic university would have a faculty of law and a faculty of letters and philosophy.

The bishops thought that the third place should be a medical school. “They saw a shortage of Catholic doctors in Catholic areas and wanted to fill that shortage. But the big drawback was that medical school was much more expensive than theology school.”

If they were sticking to medical school, university would never have happened. At that time, private universities were not supported by the government. “Until the late 1940s, these were funded by dimes and quarters of the faithful.”


In 1900, the Dutch Catholic scholar Martin Polheke began to count about 35% of the Dutch population at the time, but among academics this figure ranged between ten and fifteen percent. Of the hundreds of professors in Dutch universities, only one was Catholic.

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