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Common Ground


In observance of the 5Oth Anniversary of La  Roche College, the Department of Religious Studies/Philosophy proposed the establishment of a Catholic Common Ground Initiative at La Roche University in honor of Father Eugene F. Lauer, S.T.D. 

Father Lauer was one of the early professors at La Roche University.   During his tenure, he served as Chair of the Department of Theology and Academic Dean of the University.  He was also instrumental in La Roche obtaining accreditation from Middle Atlantic States.  Since leaving La Roche in 1975, Father Lauer has taught at Duquesne University, Wheeling Jesuit University, the University of Notre Dame, and Catholic University of America.  

He is a recognized scholar, with several publications. He holds a Doctorate in Theology from the illustrious Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana in Rome, an academic institution educating international scholars since 1556.  In addition to his scholarship, Father Lauer is a popular pastoral minister, a conference speaker, and a retreat master.  He served as co-director of the Hesburg Center at the Catholic Theological Union and was recently the Director of the National Pastoral Life Center in New York City.


On August 12, 1996, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago, issued a statement, entitled “Called to Be Catholic Church in a Time of Peril.” The document inaugurated the Catholic Common Ground Initiative – a movement whose effort is to lessen the unnecessarily polarizing differences among church leaders and members, which hinder efforts to build the church community and to carry out its mission.

Through lectures, conferences, and programs in Catholic parishes, schools, and organizations, the Catholic Common Ground Initiative continues to promote dialogue within the Church on a variety of theological  and social issues, including the changing roles of women, human sexuality, healthcare reform, and immigration – challenges facing, not only the  American  Catholic Church, but the United States as a whole.

The Mission Statement 

The Catholic Common Ground Initiative, inspirited by the call  to be one in Christ, invites Catholics with differing views about critical issues in the Church to engage in prayerful dialogue for the sake of building up communion in the Church.

Overview of the Initiatives Beginnings 

  • February 1992:  Cardinal Bernardin issues a statement:  “The Parish in the Contemporary Church.” 
  • Spring 1992:  Conversations between Cardinal Bernardin and the Rev. Philip J. Murnion about pastoral concerns and polarization 
  • December 1992:  Meeting of a group to discuss concerns. 
  • 1993-1996:  Five more meetings are held with various participants. 
  • 1995-1996: “Called to Be Church in a Time of Peril” statement is developed. 
  • Spring 1996: Decision by Cardinal Bernardin to establish the Catholic Common Ground Project.  The committee is formed.  The secretariat of the Initiative is established at the National Pastoral Life Center in New York. 
  • August 12, 1996:  Press Conference is held by Cardinal Bernardin to announce the project and to release the statement. 
  • October 24, 1996:  First Meeting of the Initiative Committee.  Public address by Cardinal Bernardin spelling out the purposes of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. 
  • November 14, 1996:  Cardinal Bernardin passes away. 
  • November 1996-November 2009:  National Pastoral Life Center provides leadership for furthering the Initiative. 
  • November 14, 2009:  The Initiative moved to the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry of Catholic Theological Union of Chicago. 

Common Ground Conversations at La Roche University 

Format For the Conversations

  • Small Group discussion.  Respectful listening to diverse views.  Honestly speaking from one’s heart as well as one’s mind.  Raising questions.  Seeking wisdom. 
  • Participants are invited to make a free-will offering, the proceeds of which will be placed in the Sister Candace Introcaso Student Emergency Fund.  

Purpose for the Conversations

To provide an opportunity to gather and dialogue about critical issues in both the Church and the world.

Participants in the Conversations 

 Alumni of La Roche University, the La Roche University Community, the Sisters of Divine Providence, the members of the Association of the Pittsburgh Priests, the members of the Sunday liturgical worshipping community of La Roche College Chapel, and all other interested parties.

Sponsoring Partners

The Department of Religious Studies/Philosophy, the Office of Mission and Service, the Office of Alumni Affairs and Donor Relations, and the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence.

"Ground Rules for the Common Ground Conversations” 

Common Ground Partners affirm and promote the full range and demands of authentic unity, acceptable diversity, and respectful dialogue, not only as a way to lessen conflict, but as a way to make conflicts constructive.  This will only be achieved if the following practical rules are observed:

  • Those who have a tendency to always be the first to speak, should “hold back” until at  least two other people have spoken 
  • Those who almost never speak up in public are invited to express at least one opinion of  her/his own.    Participants are encouraged to offer a reason for why they agree, or disagree, avoiding minimal statements such as “I agree.” 
  • Be a respectful listener; do not interrupt unless the person speaking is using more than her/his fair share of oxygen in the room. 
  • Be open to the possibility that you might change your mind. 
  • Be open to the reality that in the real world we must deal with ambiguity 

The Goal of Common Ground Conversations 

The format of the Common Ground Conversations is intended to model adult conversation partners, who can engage in dynamic, enlightened conversations about controversial topics and ultimately become better persons as a result.

Common Ground Conversations are not intended to lead to definite decisions at the end of a session.   They are intended to be a springboard into deeper ongoing conversations that in due course lead to action on behalf of the greater good of all people

Past Topics for the Conversations                                                                                        

  • November 20, 2012:  “Methodological Considerations for Common Ground Conversations”  Eugene F. Lauer, S.T.D. 
  • March 19, 2013 : “The Role of Laity in the Church”  Dr. Ed Brett 
  • November 19, 2013: “The Role of Women in the Church” Patricia McCann, R.S.M.  
  • March 18, 2014: “An Evaluation of Francis I’s First Year of Ministry” Tom Schaefer, Ph. D., Rita Yeasted, Ph.D. 
  • November 18, 2014: “Can Catholic Identity and Academic Freedom be Harmonized?” Michele Bisbey, Ph.D., Linda Jordan Platt, Ph. D, Rita Yeasted, Ph. D. 
  • March 24, 2015: “Ethical Issues of Responsible Journalism” Prof. Ed Stankowski 
  • November 11, 2015: “The Beatification of Oscar Romero” Dr . Ed Brett 
  • April 27, 2016: “Pope Francis’s Ecology through the Lens of Food, Agriculture and Culture: Michael Woods, S.J.  
  • November 9, 2016 - God’s Mercy and the Demands of Social Justice: Dr. Maureen Crossen
  • November 1, 2017- “Did Vatican II Make the Reformation Obsolete”? Dr. Frederick Foltz