Before anything else, a disclaimer: In this column, I speak for no one but myself. I do not speak for the Jesuit Community. Happily, others bear that weighty burden. I speak for Fr. Ryan Maher, S.J., Georgetown Class of 1982.
For several reasons, it’s hard to know where to begin responding to last week’s HOYA editorial, “Where Have the Jesuits Gone?” (THE HOYA, Feb. 22, 2008, A3). My sense is that the Editorial Board was trying to say that Jesuits should play a significant role in the life of Georgetown University. I could not agree more. As to ways the university does or might officially solicit the Jesuit Community’s input on matters of concern, I leave it to the appropriate university and Jesuit Community officials to address that. That’s way above my pay grade.
There are some things I can address, however. I have been involved in several different Jesuit schools, all of them – except Georgetown – with a Jesuit president. I can say without any hesitation that President DeGioia is the most consistently and articulately passionate president I have ever worked for when it comes to advocating for the Jesuit tradition in the public sphere.
The board refers to Georgetown as a place characterized by the “administration’s utter mistrust of and detachment from students today.” Dan Porterfield, Todd Olson, Jeanne Lord, Erica Cohen-Derr, Hugh Cloke, Betty Andretta and on and on. Utterly mistrustful of and detached from students? Anyone who knows these administrators knows that nothing could be further from the truth. Careless characterizations only serve to undermine the Editorial Board’s credibility.
For the record, the move of the Jesuit Residence to its current location has greatly increased the Jesuit Community’s ability to be open to and welcoming of the whole Georgetown community. In fact, it’s a good bet that there have been more university guests in the Jesuit Residence over the past five years than in all the previous 200 and more year history of the Georgetown Jesuit Community.
Next, a word of caution. Be careful what you wish for. If the Jesuits were to weigh in on an issue like the sale of condoms on campus, my guess is that the Editorial Board of THE HOYA would not be happy with what they heard. I say this not because of some knee-jerk, groundless adherence to “confining and condescending regulations” but because of a well-reasoned, time-tested Catholic understanding of the proper context of sexual intercourse in human experience. But that’s another matter.
What, then, ought the Georgetown Jesuits do at this moment in the university’s life? About what should we speak? To whom? When and through what sorts of channels? These are pressing and timely questions, and I am grateful to THE HOYA’s Editorial Board for challenging us to answer them. I am happy to say that the Jesuit Community is actively involved in an ongoing conversation about how to best answer these questions.
y own thinking regarding these questions is greatly colored by a conversation I had with my father many years ago. We were discussing the attitudes of some Jesuits when it comes to the question of how best to perpetuate the Jesuit tradition in our schools.
At one point in the conversation, I explained to my father that there are some who argue that, when it comes to passing on our tradition, the time has come for Jesuits to leave the heavy lifting to our lay colleagues. “That’s what Vatican II asks us to do,” they claim. “Plus, we just don’t have the numbers to do it ourselves anymore.”
y father is a man of few words, an engineer by training. He and my mother raised six kids and sent them all to Catholic schools, most of them Jesuit schools. He thought about what I had told him for a couple of quiet minutes.
Finally, oracle-like, he responded. “Listen, you guys need to get your collective act together. Since the day you entered the Jesuits, you all haven’t had to pay for a single thing – not tuition, not food, not rent, not cars, not medical care, not anything. The Church has taken all of those burdens off of you. We did that to free you up to be concerned about other things. The most important thing we want you to do is safeguard, adapt and pass on the tradition you inherited from St. Ignatius and all the Jesuits who came before you. The Church has entrusted the care and feeding of that tradition to you in a unique way, especially in your schools.”
He concluded, “You guys can’t pass that obligation off to anyone else. If you think you can, then you might as well do us all a favor and close up shop as a religious order.”
As usual, Dad was right.
If you know the Jesuits, you know that we are a group of strong-willed, intelligent, passionate, opinionated men who do not shy away from a good argument. Our conversations among ourselves are not uncomplicated. Still, I am hopeful that the coming years will find an invigorated and determined Georgetown Jesuit Community that is even more engaged in the university’s project than it is today.
Fr. Ryan Maher, S.J., is an assistant dean for Georgetown College. He can be reached at rjm27georgetown.edu. AS THIS JESUIT SEES IT. appears every other Friday, with Maher and Fr. James Schall, S.J., alternating as writers.