In his book, “Idea of a University,” Cardinal John Henry Newman states that “the human spirit must be cultivated in such a way that there results a growth in its ability to wonder, to understand, to contemplate, to make personal judgments and to develop a religious, moral and social sense.”
Here, he is arguing that, for a university to be Catholic, these virtues must be cultivated within the students it endeavors to educate.
As a leader in Campus Ministry and as a proud Knight of Columbus, I have a unique view of Georgetown’s Catholic identity, a much-debated topic on the Hilltop.
I generally believe in the maxim, “Georgetown’s Catholicity is only as present as you want it to be.” I have found that many on the Hilltop allow faith to take center stage in their lives. I’ve found professors that see, like Newman, that instilling virtue in students is the vital underpinning of a Catholic university. I’ve met faculty members of Campus Ministry who’ve devoted their lives to supporting students in their faiths. I have met Jesuits, other priests and chaplains who constantly try to bring faith into Hoyas’lives.
However, my experience has diverged from most in that I have chosen to center my Georgetown experience on receiving a truly Catholic education.
There are resources here that help students’ faiths to grow, but these, regrettably, are not enough. A stronger Catholic identity cannot simply grow from more resources or different university policies alone because if no one uses or accepts them, then what’s the point of having them at all? As Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., stated in his address to the Class of 2013 last year, the onus is not only on the administration but on us, the students, to “open our hands” in order to receive and nurture our faiths so that we can develop relationships with God. Only then can our Catholic identity grow stronger.
This great burden resides on us, the students. It is a cross that we ourselves must shoulder. But, I believe that this burden can ultimately bring us authentic joy.
The Holy Father Pope Francis, during his inspiring interview last week, called on all Catholics around the world to do this very thing. He proclaimed that the Catholic faith “needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. … The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”
I firmly believe that it is our job to live our faiths and thereby promote Georgetown’s Catholic identity. For the Catholic students on this campus, our Holy Father calls on us to proclaim the Gospel and that Christ has died to save us. This is part and parcel of the spirit of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith, started by Pope Benedict XVI. Students, if they wish to actualize Georgetown’s Catholic identity, should embrace this Year of Faith.
Here on campus, the Knights of Columbus take this burden very seriously. We proudly and joyfully strive to increase awareness of what it means to attend a Catholic university. Last year, for instance, three Knights helped develop a strategy to build community around the 10 p.m. Mass on weeknights by baking treats for after-Mass fellowship twice per week. The idea was a hit, exponentially increasing the number of students attending daily Mass in Copley Crypt Chapel.
This year, the Knights have instituted Theology on Tap, House Mass and Fraternal Dinner programs to encourage the Catholic community to develop those habits of the mind called for by Newman.
I am proud of my council and of the members of our community who seek to make this rich identity stronger. I have been privileged to find great mentors and friends here in Georgetown’s Catholic community. But is this enough? I would be lying if I did not say, “no.”
No true Catholic identity can be static. We should always allow our faiths to be dynamic so that they can flourish. We must inculcate our faiths within our everyday lives here on the Hilltop. Living the life of faith, from a Catholic perspective, is a constant pilgrimage on which we journey together. In the same way, fortifying a Catholic identity is a constant, dynamic process.
The onus is on us, my fellow Hoyas, for, if we do not take the initiative to heed the Holy Father’s call to evangelize and live out our faiths, we will be making an active choice against nourishing our university’s identity. We will thus, at best, maintain the status quo. Let’s get to work.
Chris Cannataro is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. He is deputy grand knight of the Georgetown Chapter of the Knights of Colombus.