EDITORIAL: The shepherd, the administration and the students

Photo courtesy of Xavier University

It was recently announced that the administration will move Father John LaRocca out of his apartment, against his wishes, by June 15 and deposit him back at the Jesuit Residence. He won’t be able to keep his beagle, Bella.

It is a strange move for a university that is so proud of its Jesuit heritage. Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope, has made it his life’s mission and dying wish that the Church would once again champion shepherds who actually smell like the sheep. Fr. LaRocca is by far the most visible Jesuit on campus. Until just a few months ago, he was the only remaining Jesuit who actually taught Xavier students full-time.

The administration has not publicly addressed the grounds for this decision. However, there is a rumor that it judges Fr. LaRocca to be a “loose cannon” in need of control. They are right if they mean that he is not perfect. Like Xavier students, Fr. LaRocca is known for being forthright with his opinions and clear in his thoughts. Also like Xavier students, he sometimes oversteps his bounds in expressing those opinions.

At his famous pasta dinners, he often corrects with frightening sincerity anyone who makes a comment slightly too belittling or even somewhat hurtful. Many of those corrections have been aimed at me. At Mass, he is often found ripping away from the pulpit at politicians in D.C. That is improper for a religious ceremony, but occasionally in class I am overcome with the same anger doing the same thing. Fr. LaRocca is not a thoroughbred, and he sure isn’t a showhorse. But he does smell like the sheep.

The lesson to be learned is that at the end of the day, it just comes with the territory. Sheep are not fragrant animals. And bearing this in mind, I can assure you that Fr. LaRocca truly does carry inside him all the honesty and all the stench that one will find in a living sheep.

All this and we are still empty-handed regarding the actual reason why the administration is yanking away the shepherd from his flock. Do not be fooled into thinking that the slow sequestration of the Jesuits into that one little building is just a natural coincidence. Do not passively ignore the fact that a university so proud to be Jesuit no longer has a single Jesuit on the full-time teaching faculty. Fr. LaRocca may not always be careful with his language, but the administration is very careful with its plans and designs for this storied school.

The bottom line is that Fr. LaRocca deserves to stay in his apartment for reasons that are beyond what a gentleman would contest. He is a Jesuit. This university has Jesuit founders, bears the Jesuit banner and carries the Jesuit cross. It is committed to upholding the claims and outlook of the Society of Jesus. Xavier’s own marketing materials have made that much clear.

In the current situation, which is already standing and quite popular with students, a Jesuit lives among, communes with and forms relationships with students as a natural course of dormitory life. To remove him from that already organic and appreciated situation, not because mobs of students have spoken out against his personality as something unfit for all standards of decency, but because administrators and office orderlies have concluded that this Jesuit’s view of the Gospel and the human soul is not in alignment with the daydreams of the administration, would constitute no small revolution.

In fact, interfering with an enterprise of the Society of Jesus that has already demonstrated evangelical success for the sake of bending the Society’s display of Christianity to conform to the administration’s vision of utopian dormitories constitutes a revolution that is startling, arresting and, as it happens, very revealing.

This business of moving such a magnanimous shepherd off-site because he’s not homogenized enough is ludicrous and shameful, especially for a university named after as great a shepherd as Saint Francis Xavier. Whether LaRocca leaves or stays, the administration’s character will be revealed. If you would like to voice your concern about this decision, click here.

Harrison McNulty is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public, economics and history triple major. He is a guest writer for the Newswire from Tampa, Fla.