August 17, 2012
Holy Trinity Church
All of us have our impressions, our personal experiences through which we came to know Gerry. For some of you, you knew him as novices, for others, he was your spiritual director. At a particularly volatile time in the history of our country, Gerry served as President of Georgetown.
As I was thinking about these remarks, there are two ideas that kept coming back into my mind as I thought about Gerry. The first is freedom; the second is self-possession. Let me provide a little context.
Gerry came into our community in 1963 as Executive Vice President in the last year of the presidency of Father Bunn. Just over a year later, at the concluding event of Georgetown’s 175th anniversary Gerry was inaugurated as our 44th president. President Johnson was present—President Kennedy had previously committed to attend. President Johnson honored this commitment. Gerry served in this role from December 1964 to January 1969.
Think for a moment about the years, 1964 to 1969. In our nation we saw the deployment to Vietnam of the first US combat troops. The Voting Rights Act became law. Here in Washington, the “Armies of the Night” marched on the Pentagon; the Poor People’s Campaign began. Following the assassination of Dr. King, riots engulfed our city and just weeks later, just days before the Georgetown commencement, Robert Kennedy was killed.
In the Church, we saw the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, the issuance of Humanae Vitae. During these years, in the Society of Jesus, Father Arrupe was elected Superior General.
During his presidency, Gerry spoke about these convulsive times, never backing away from the responsibility to engage, connecting our community to our history:
In 1967: “We cannot—or we ought not—forget that John Carroll and his associates founded Georgetown in times of revolutionary change….”
In late 1968: “John Carroll would, I am sure, understand the revolutionary character of our country today….”
What happened at Georgetown during these same years? It would be hard to overestimate the revolutionary change that took place in the years of Gerry’s presidency.
- Our Faculty Senate was established.
- The first laymen were appointed to the Board of Directors.
- A model statement on rights and freedoms for students was drafted.
- The decision to admit women into the College was approved.
- Undergraduate Admissions began recruiting nationally.
- The Committee on Rank and Tenure was established.
- Faculty were able to secure retirement benefits through TIAA-CREF.
- Darnall and Harbin Halls were opened. Construction began on Lauinger Library.
- Separate incorporation of the Georgetown Jesuit Community placed the Board of Directors as the autonomous fiduciary responsible for the University.
The changes taking place mirrored the changes taking place in our society. All of this happened during Gerry’s presidency.
And then as we know, he stepped away, and after some time in Baltimore and Wernersville, returned back here to serve first as Director of Woodstock, and then for twenty years, as the first Director of the Center for Spirituality here at Holy Trinity.
Two ideas come to mind when I think of Gerry—freedom and self-possession.
In July 1967, Gerry joined Father Theodore Hesburgh and twenty-four other leaders of Catholic universities in drafting a statement on The Idea of the Catholic University. The meeting took place in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, and the document is best known in reference to this location.
This was a very important moment in the life of the Church and in establishing the trajectory of Catholic universities. Forty-five years ago yesterday, John Courtney Murray died. His drafting of the document on religious freedom for the Second Vatican Council, provided resources for those seeking to establish a clear understanding of the nature of a Catholic university.
At the Fall Faculty Convocation in October 1967, Gerry commented on his participation in the conference:
Any University needs to have a full measure of freedom to pursue its work as an institution devoted to the search for and the embrace of truth wherever this is found. This characteristic of the university—or one might say precondition of the university—has always been necessary, but universities are, I think, uniquely aware of the need for such freedom in our present circumstances, The responsible exercise of freedom should be presumed in a university. This tradition has been honored and preserved at Georgetown over the years….
But there is another dimension of freedom, perhaps best described as an “interior freedom” and this is characterized by Gerry’s years as a spiritual director. Gerry was one of those men who responded to the call of the Second Vatican Council “to return to the sources…to the original spirit” of the Society of Jesus and to adapt them “to the changed conditions of our time.” (Second Vatican Council, Perfectae Caritatis, Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life)
This call was later captured in decrees of both the 31st and 32nd General Congregations:
- “…our whole training in spirituality…must be changed; that religious and apostolic life itself is to be renewed…and that the very spiritual heritage of our Institute containing both new and old elements , is to be purified and enriched anew according to the necessities of our times.” (Congregation 31 Number 21)
- “The Spiritual Exercises are a privileged means for achieving renovation and union in the Society, and for revitalizing our apostolic mission.” (Congregation 32 Number 242)
The Spirituality of St. Ignatius is alive today, in this community, at Georgetown, because people like Gerry made it an aspect of their vocation to go back to the sources and reimagine them, and make them come alive in a modern vernacular, for a contemporary audience. For twenty years here as Director and in the years that followed, Gerry enabled countless retreatants to develop an interior freedom that made possible ever deeper, encounters with God.
Self-Possession. Gerry was able to step away from the presidency after an extraordinary set of achievements. He was fifty-years old. He was selfless. He became Assistant Novice Director, Assistant Tertian Director; he returned to this neighborhood, in the shadow of Healy Hall, and for more than thirty years served us as a spiritual director.
I was looking through some old notes from conversations I had over the years with Father Bill Sampson. Bill was another Jesuit who followed the call of the Council and the Congregations to reimagine the animating spirituality of Ignatius and he looked to Gerry as a model. Bill once said to me: “Gerry is able to listen without any emotional overload. He is self-possessed, on top of himself. This is not natural. It comes only through intense self-discipline and intense self-awareness.” (Conversation with Bill Sampson, December 19, 1990)
We have been blessed to know a man who brought out the best in us. A man who lived his vocation wherever it took him and whatever demands it asked of him. He served in an office he did not seek in the most challenging years in modern history and then quietly, served in this place, in one-on-one spiritual direction, helping souls experience the presence of God. How fortunate we are to have known and loved and to have been known and loved by this good man.