Loyola University Convocation

September 25, 2009
Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore

I am deeply honored to be with you today as the Loyola University Maryland community celebrates this important milestone.

I am also humbled to receive an honorary degree in such distinguished company as Archbishop O’Brien—successor of Georgetown’s founder, Archbishop John Carroll. And I wish to thank Fr. Linnane and all the members of the Loyola community for this wonderful honor.

Today, the values, achievements, and potential of the very first college in the United States to bear the name of St. Ignatius Loyola are acknowledged with the new designation of “Loyola University Maryland.” Not only is this change fitting, given your dedication to both graduate and undergraduate education, it’s another indication of your commitment to remaining “Grounded in Tradition [while] Educating for the Future.” [Official title of Loyola’s 2008-2013 Strategic Plan.]

I come from another Catholic and Jesuit University, just a little south of here. What our two Universities share, and what distinguishes us in the context of higher education, is a tradition. It’s a tradition with its roots in the experience of a man, convalescing in a room in Spain, evolving further after enrolling at the University of Paris, later leading to the establishment of the first Jesuit college in Messina in 1548, and to the codification of everything that had been learned in the first fifty years and 73 schools, with the issuance of the Ratio Studiorum in 1599.

We are heirs to what may be the most extraordinary tradition of education the world has ever seen. At one point in the mid-eighteenth century, the Jesuits were responsible for more than 800 institutions of learning in the world; today there are 90 Jesuit colleges and universities in 27 countries, including 28 here in the United States.

I believe an event like this one, such an extraordinary moment in the life of this community, calls us to reflect on what this moment means for a University shaped by such a rich tradition.

But, first, what is a tradition? We use the word so often and so easily that its meaning can lose its significance. The word can mean many things. It can refer to a “long-established custom.”

It can refer to “social conventions.” Perhaps the definition that comes closest to the most appropriate meaning for a university is “a body of teachings transmitted…from generation to generation….” (The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Volume XVIII)

But the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola offer us an even deeper way of thinking about the meaning of tradition.

In the final exercise of the Spiritual Exercises, called the
“Contemplation to Attain Love,” Ignatius invites us to reflect on how the Creator “dwells in creatures,” and further, how the Creator actually “works and labors on our behalf in all created things on the face of the earth.” The prayer concludes in words that will be familiar: We offer God our “liberty, memory, understanding and entire will,” making ourselves completely available for God’s project in the world.

We should recall that the Latin root of the word tradition, traditio, refers to the action of “handing over.” In this final exercise, we can see the mutual “handing over” taking place between God and us. God “hands over” to us the work of bringing about the fulfillment of God’s project on earth…and we “hand over” ourselves to God in making ourselves completely available for God’s work in the world.

If this is our tradition, then it is important that we recognize what is distinctive about it. Like every university, Jesuit Universities are committed to the belief that through exposure to ideas, to the best that has been thought and written, through rigorous dialogue, we will come to know the truth. We pursue the truth, wherever the journey leads us.

But while we share this purpose with every university, given our Jesuit tradition, there is something distinctive about the conduct of this work in this kind of community. We believe that God is at work here—the Spirit is present. At our core, we believe that the Spirit is here calling us to know, to love, and to serve God. And we seek an interior freedom that will enable us to have an affective grasp of this experience.

You are making a powerful statement today for the ambition that will define the future life of this community, a community guided by this tradition that shapes it—and a tradition that especially matters at a moment like this.

But to understand the importance of the connection between our tradition and a moment like this, it would be helpful to probe it a little deeper.

As Father John O’Malley has taught us, there are distinctive “cultures” that have shaped the way we understand our world. Two cultures are particularly important for a university community—especially a Catholic and Jesuit community, as they provide a powerful way of framing our understanding of our work.

The first is the culture of the Academy. It is a culture embodied, historically, in Plato and Aristotle. Within this culture, there is a “certain style of learning and discoursing…,” a style that is the “analytical, questing, and questioning, restless and relentless style, in which we in academe are today immersed.”

John writes further, “It is a style of learning that is never satisfied, that is critical of every wisdom, that is insatiably eager to ask the further question, and that is ever ready to propose yet another perspective….” (O’Malley 11) This is the “academic” culture, enshrined in our universities.

There is a second culture at work in our communities that asks us to pursue something else. Again, John O’Malley: “At the center (of this second culture) is a moral imperative….” (O’Malley 18).

It looks to the formation of “upright character,” to civic responsibility (O’Malley 18).

It is the culture of humanism, of the humanities. It calls for an immersion in literature, in arts and letters.

It is “ordered to the common good and the betterment of society….” The ideals of this culture come alive in the 16th and 17th centuries, with a special role played by the emerging schools of the Society of Jesus.

If at the heart of the academy is the pursuit “with special zeal” of the “Truth,” for Jesuit schools, there came a corresponding commitment to the “Good.” (O’Malley 17)

Today, this centuries old idea—that we must work for and contribute to the common good—still resonates in the contemporary vision of the Jesuits. Last year—at the 35th General Congregation—Jesuits from around the world gathered and recognized that “new frontiers beckon that we must be willing to embrace.”

These new frontiers include “nations” beyond geographical definition. As the Congregation declared, “nations today include those who are poor and displaced…those who are profoundly lonely…those who ignore God’s existence…”

I would also include the forgotten…the excluded…the stranger in our midst—the voiceless and the powerless.

Those living at the frontiers also comprise all those who, in the words of Fr. Linnane at his inauguration, do “not share in the American dream and…[remain] at risk economically and socially, suffering from public health issues, violence, and a lack of educational opportunity.”

You should be very proud that Loyola University Maryland has long been working at this frontier. You are deeply engaged in the City of Baltimore in so many ways. Your efforts include the innovative Loyola Clinical Centers, which bring speech-language pathology, audiology, literacy, and behavioral health services to Baltimore citizens who are never turned away because they cannot pay…

…and the York Road Corridor Initiative, which pledges to work with the City of Baltimore to revitalize the area just east of this campus.

You’ve also been recognized as a leader among all Jesuit colleges for your service programs. Nearly 40% of your students participate in community service projects through your Center for Community Service and Justice, which is specifically dedicated to helping “people who are marginalized in some way…” [CCSJ mission statement.]

But for any college or University in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, as I noted, there is a creative and dynamic tension between the cultures of the Academy …and of the schools.

This tension lies at the very root of our tradition. It has always existed…and always will. Engaging it has defined our work for more than 450 years.

But with the transition you undertake today—you not only extend your tradition—this historic tension will now become even more a part of the life of this community…

…Because this transition is a decision to become even more deeply grounded in the culture of the Academy. This transition will require even greater rigor in your scholarship and research. And this transition will challenge you to become even more focused on the standards and practices of the Academy.

But it will require an ongoing quest to achieve a balance between this increased focus on the Academy and the need to hold onto what makes an institution, a Catholic and Jesuit institution, like Loyola distinctive:

An unwavering dedication to the civic virtues that sustains a commitment to both the common good and the formation of character worthy of our humanity.

This civic humanism—this Catholic and Jesuit dimension that first took root more than 450 years ago—asks us to consider this:

Do our ideas, does our work, promote a social order that is more likely to lead to treating one another the way we ourselves wish to be treated? Are we more likely to look beyond our own personal well-being to the collective well-being of the entire human family?

These are questions that demand our engagement. And I’ve no doubt that by undertaking this important transition, today, Loyola University Maryland will be better poised to answer this challenge…this charge…and this call to action.

On behalf of everyone at Georgetown, let me again offer my best wishes to Fr. Linnane, and to everyone at Loyola University Maryland on this historic milestone.

This community has done truly great things throughout its history…but I know that your past accomplishments only hint at your future achievements, and I look forward to witnessing your continued growth and development as a truly great Catholic and Jesuit University.

Congratulations, and thank you.