What’s behind the buzzwords?
What does it mean to be a Jesuit, Catholic university? Well, I’m not sure, but this may be the year that students find out.
This year is a special one at Xavier, or at least it ought to be. This year marks several important anniversaries: it is the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus after it was suppressed for 41 years at the behest of the monarchs of Western Europe, and it is the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of six Jesuits at the Universidad Centroamericana, the Jesuit university in San Salvador, El Salvador, during the height of the civil war.
Xavier — or at least parts of Xavier — is commemorating its institutional legacy through a number of events. The annual Ethics/Religion and Society (E/RS) lecture series is examining the question “Is there a Jesuit ethics?” There will also be a variety of events on campus this fall in honor of the Jesuit martyrs, their legacy and their advocacy for a Jesuit university with a strong commitment to social justice at all costs, even death.
While these things are certainly commendable, I want to plant a seed of doubt in your mind. How “Jesuit” does that legacy and the way we remember it actually make Xavier?
This question may sound odd, but I think it is pertinent. If we claim to be a Jesuit, Catholic university, what does that mean?
It cannot mean that there is an overwhelming number of Jesuits on campus. While there are Jesuits teaching on campus and living at the Jesuit Residence at Xavier, there is no overwhelming number of Jesuits here, nor do I mean to imply that there should be. It also seems that few Jesuits are consulted on what it means to be a Jesuit or how “Jesuit values” are rooted in a Catholic spiritual life. Or at least that’s what I hear.
Being a Jesuit, Catholic university also probably cannot mean that a majority of students or faculty are Catholic with an emphasis on Ignatian spiritual practices. Even if there is technically a numerical majority of self-identifying Catholics, there is a pesky qualifier: some are “nominal Catholics” and some are non-practicing. That also says nothing about how influential Ignatian spirituality is in the overall life of the university, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Attempting to excavate what it means for Xavier to identify itself as “Jesuit” and “Catholic” can be rather frustrating. There is no clear-cut answer. At best, the answer begins to appear in the way we do things as a community, but that is a tenuous response.
I don’t have an answer to that initial question, and as a senior it’s not my place to propose a comprehensive one. I’m on my way out the door now, for better or worse.
I do think, however, that a productive step would be to concretize that conversation. I hear the phrase “Jesuit values” thrown around all the time. I have never seen a definition or heard them listed. I have rarely, if ever, seen them related to their uniquely Catholic background and context. I have searched on the internet for some kind of meaning, but the only place they seem to exist is in institutional discourses.
So, here’s all I have to say on the matter for now: a great way for such a conversation to emerge is not in administrators’ definitions or university goals and benchmarks or even by upping the frequency of usage of “Ignatian-speak” through the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice. It is through concrete dialogue.
All those events I noted above? I have not seen many administrators or staff at them, and that is something I would love to see. If administrators, staff, faculty and students all had a lecture they could talk about together, that could be a great starting place. That might even be the ideal starting place, especially in this year of great legacy. And we might eventually find out what those elusive “Jesuit values” are.
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