May 30, 2012

Catholic identity, Georgetown and Rome

St. Ignatius Loyola was clear from the beginning that a Jesuit education would involve more than texts and classrooms, teaching that students should "absorb along with their letters the morals worthy of a Christian."

Thus, the motto of the Society of Jesus can be found in gilded letters across the front of Georgetown University's famous Gaston Hall: "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam Inque Hominum Salutem (For the Greater Glory of God and the Salvation of Humanity)."

In other words, a Jesuit university can be judged on its impact on souls, as well as the quality of its research and scholarship. Attempting to balance this equation has caused intense and often bitter debates at Georgetown and other Catholic schools across the nation -- with the Vatican listening in.

The key is to follow St. Ignatius in linking morals and academics, according to the founder of the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown, a program dedicated to building character and virtue in students. This strategy is also linked to Vatican demands that Catholic educators maintain a "Catholic identity" on their campuses.

"For far too many students today there is a huge gap between what happens in our classrooms and their experiences in their dormitories, in the dining hall and in the rest of life on and off campus," said Patrick J. Deneen. Thus, it's time for Catholic administrators and faculty members to remember that the "state of our students' lives has as much to do with the state of their souls as the state of their bodies and their minds."

Growing concerns about "Catholic identity" issues played a role in Deneen's recent decision to leave Georgetown and accept a similar political science post at the University of Notre Dame. While stressing he doesn't want to "become the poster boy for Georgetown bashing," the professor said he was increasingly concerned about the impact of years of clashes between Georgetown and church leaders over issues of doctrine and public life.

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