I decided to improve my social station

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has a very interesting piece about his Studentenverbindung, KAV Sanctottensis. Our attention was drawn to the piece because he cites our comment, “And he carries the reminders,” which touched briefly on German academic dueling. For the reasons set forth in that piece, Catholic Studentenverbindungen rejected academic dueling, and got sideways with other German associations, which, in the years of Kulturkampf, were not so bothered by Catholic teaching on bodily harm. But the piece is more broadly interesting than that.

At almost every four-year college in the United States, Greek-letter social fraternities and sororities are major institutions. (We exclude from this discussion Greek-letter honorary and professional fraternities, such as Phi Beta Kappa or Phi Delta Phi.) In fact, at most schools, fraternities and sororities are practically school-sanctioned entities, with the schools owning the houses, collecting dues and other bills, and providing physical-plant maintenance. Yet, despite this symbiotic relationship between colleges and Greek-letter fraternities, fraternities are almost always controversial. We will not review the controversies associated with fraternities in great detail; suffice it to say that critics allege all manner of licentious, sinful conduct against fraternities.

As an aside, we wonder whether Catholics are enjoined from joining Greek-letter social fraternities. The masonic origins of some of these societies is beyond dispute, though the extent to which freemasonry serves as the basis for their rituals and doctrine is, of course, up for debate. Thus, to that extent, one wonders if canon 1374, as clarified by the 1983 Declaration on Masonic Associations of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, applies. Moreover, one notes that these societies often involve elaborate, dreadful oaths of secrecy, which protect certain rituals and doctrine. One notes that secret societies have long been held in suspicion, to say the least, by the Church when one reviews Leo XII’s Quo graviora (which quotes Clement XII’s In eminenti and Benedict XIV’s Providas Romanorum at great length), to say nothing of Leo XIII’s Humanum genus. Thus, we wonder whether these Greek-letter fraternities are wholly consistent with the Church’s teaching about such organizations. However, that inquiry is best left to the moral theologians.

At any rate, Pater Waldstein’s post presents his Studentenverbindung in quite an appealing light:

The Sanctottensis organizes many different sorts of events throughout the year— some only for members, others where guests too are welcome. All of them are meant to promote the four principles of the CV: religio, patria, scientia, and amicitia. There are processions and Masses, academic lectures, political discussions, poetry readings, croquet matches, and especially there are the elaborate ceremonies of the Kneipe and the Commers. 

The Sanctottensis, being based in Heiligenkreuz, consists mainly of theology students, and is thus particularly suited to bringing solid theological thought into the wider ÖCV. Membership in a Studentenverbindung is life-long, and so the ÖCV is a an organization with something of the character of the Knights of Columbus in U.S.A. (not to mention certain fraternal organizations of active during the Enlightenment…), engaging in charitable and political action.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Given this background, it seems to us that Catholic students in the United States would do well to consider imitating the Catholic Studentenverbindungen.

Too often, Catholics are left to their own devices at universities and colleges, especially if the schools are not Catholic (even nominally). Certainly, the Newman Center or the university parish might provide some fellowship and the opportunity to deepen one’s faith. But not every college has a Newman Center or a university parish, and those that do may not have especially interesting or edifying programming. And, more than that, in our experience, the Newman Center does not always offer the sort of hearty fellowship that young men and young women enjoy. The Catholic Studentenverbindung as Pater Waldstein describes it, however, appears to offer not only spiritually edifying activities but also hearty fellowship. (But not so hearty that a Cistercian monk would feel uncomfortable!)