I have never sat on John Carroll’s lap. In fact, I’ve never even been tempted to try. But each time I cross Healy Lawn, I find my eyes drawn to that iconic statue that welcomes each person to the Hilltop. Over my four years as a professor here, I’ve come to treasure John Carroll’s presence and especially the wisdom that he conveys with his gentle gaze. He reminds me of what I love most about Georgetown, and he reminds me of what I’m doing here.
He reminds me of the mission of the university that he planted on this plot of land “on the banks of the Potomac in Maryland.” After living through religious persecution himself, he sought to create a place of welcome for people of every faith, in which a dialogue of people of deep religious and personal commitment could flourish. Inspired by him, we try to bring a spirit of respect, engagement and seriousness to each class, each activity, each conversation and encounter.
He calls me to remember that dialogue begins with welcome. His countenance and gentle smile even win over tired visitors that have made the long walk from the National Mall, and they gather in each new generation of students. Seeing him recalls for me that being a member of a community means being someone who helps create community with openness and hospitality and an authentic desire for friendship.
I’ve come to especially love his serenity. As my life gets busier each semester, I find I need that serenity, that peacefulness, all the more. When my body is going in so many directions, running between classes and meetings, he reminds me that I am more whole, happier, when I take the time to slow down. I find myself wanting to emulate him, quietly taking in the colors of the trees and flowers as they change.
Indeed, he reminds me that what we do here is sacred, and it is nurtured by peering deeply into the nature of things. Our work requires not just activity but reflection. To put this in Jesuit language, we need contemplation to balance our action.
But I think what I love most about John Carroll is that he looks outward. He is not focused inward on the university, as if our lives were made for this place forever. Rather, he reminds us that we come from a world beyond the gates, and all our work here is ultimately geared toward going forth through those gates. We share for a time in the beauty and wonder of this campus, but ultimately our eyes should follow his in looking out to the world. And make no mistake about it: His gaze quite intentionally looks out in the direction of the Capitol, and beyond that, of the Atlantic Ocean and finally, the whole face and circuit of the earth.
Even during our precious time here, that world informs us: It speaks to us of its needs and inequalities, its struggles and opportunities. We let that world touch our studies, cultivating in us a compassionate, informed and committed citizenship. And we aspire, in a spirit of humility and responsibility, to know how to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of those most in need, both near and far.
In the end, John Carroll’s gaze sends us forth. It launches us out into the world as people enriched by his wisdom and example. We carry forth his spirit of welcome, community, dialogue, faith, learning, reflection and service. I think this may be why he has that gentle smile. He envisions all that our community will do and encounter in the world, and this fills his eyes with a quiet, joyful blessing.
If you find yourself feeling harried in the days ahead, in the midst of midterms or papers or job interviews or work, I’d encourage you to make a visit to John Carroll. Let his gaze fall on you, and then turn and share his gaze on the world. Let him remind you of what we are about here, and inspire you anew with the mission we share. If you do, there’s a good chance you’ll find me there, too.
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., is an assistant professor in the government department. AS THIS JESUIT SEES IT… appears every other Tuesday.