Sometimes, important events happen so quietly that they are in danger of going unnoticed, and one such event is about to happen here. Woodstock, a Jesuit institution of the first order, is about to disband and leave campus forever. In the last decade, to be sure, it has not been much in evidence. Apart from an excellent theological library on the lower level of Lauinger Library — which, thank goodness, is going to remain — the institute has sought to offer accommodation, office space and seminars to Jesuit scholars, some of which are on sabbatical leave from other colleges and universities. It has created an academic home, whether temporary or permanent, to some distinguished Jesuit scholars and others who remain in residence. And it has been a kind of continuing project that has refined its members’ understanding of the thinking of Jesuit philosopher Fr. Bernard Lonigan, S.J.
Woodstock always saw itself (the past tense, alas, already seems appropriate) as an exclusively Jesuit institution and one whose connection to Georgetown University was largely accidental. Funded by several Jesuit provinces whose interests it sought to serve, it seemed to have no choice but to close when — for reasons that had become increasingly apparent — these provinces felt constrained to dedicate their contributions to other purposes. Word of the closing was posted on its website. A short article appeared in The Hoya. The rest was silence.
But in the past, often addressed general topics and, by their willingness to pose and to address interesting and contentious topics, engaged both students and faculty. That these lectures and seminars came from an on-campus theological office gave them both a resonance and an interest that attested to a Jesuit presence here, and made them seem an extension of that presence — one that was available to all. Working, to a degree at least, in association with the Woodstock Library and with those employed there and tempered by genuinely interesting receptions — often for speakers — where like-minded students and scholars could meet, it provided a theological voice and a Catholic presence that have now all but disappeared.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? First things first: In some form or other, Woodstock really must remain if Georgetown’s much–heralded Jesuit and Catholic identity is to remain anything but a distant memory. After all, the university has not been at all static over the past decade, and several of its academic initiatives, many of them excellent, have begun to transform the university, largely for the better. Could a new Woodstock not attach itself to one of these, bringing its donors with it, perhaps increasing their number, but assisted in the beginning with some institutional support in these hard times?
But should Georgetown lose Woodstock, it would be the thin edge of the wedge. It is no longer entirely clear how committed the Society of Jesus can be to Georgetown, the first Jesuit university ever to elect a lay president. And compared with Boston College or Fordham University, the community now seems to be less engaged with the intellectual direction of the campus than ever before. Certainly the current president is a great supporter of what are called “Jesuit values,” and his office often sponsors lectures somewhat like the Woodstock lectures of old — but two presidents from now, will his office even be held by a Catholic? Some years ago I was discussing like considerations with an older colleague who brushed the matter aside, and he assured me that whatever else changed, the president, provost and dean of the College would always be Jesuits at Georgetown. That is why we need an institute like Woodstock, not more good will.
Of course the Jesuit voice should not be the only one audible on as international, multicultural and complex a campus as this one, nor is there the slightest chance that such will happen. But change is part of any institution, and in the last decade, there has been little question in what ways, many of them very good, Georgetown is developing. But the loss of Woodstock would be a milestone on that path that we would come to regret.