A February 22nd editorial in The Hoya, the newspaper "of record" at Georgetown University, wonders how it is that a Jesuit university lacks a Jesuit identity:
And maybe this is what the university wanted. On a symbolic level, Jesuit ideals began to depart when the Jesuits moved from their old residence in the traditional heart of campus to a newer one far away from the center of activities. And their old building was left to rot into oblivion in much the same way the memory of their significance decays today.
The truth is, Georgetown doesn’t need a Jesuit at the helm in order to maintain its Jesuit tradition. Even without a Jesuit president, we think the Jesuits should be consulted on policy changes and asked for their unique perspective to help solve campus problems. The Jesuits should also be consulted more on social issues.
This editorial may seem a little hypocritical after we wrote last week how Georgetown should allow the sale of birth control on its campus — we stand by that claim because we believe that being a Jesuit school hasn’t and will never mean simply “Catholic,” or worse, “conservative.” It means that the Jesuits should be leaders in steering the course of the school, not pushed to the side by administrators and faculty. It means openness to ideas, to thinking and to trust. We think it means remembering to lead reasonably, allowing students to control their destinies without hiding behind confining and condescending regulations. It means recognizing that every activity and interaction is an opportunity to learn about the world and not a reason to form a committee or chance to put students in their place.
Some part of the answer is given in the remark: "...we stand by that claim because we believe that being a Jesuit school hasn’t and will never mean simply 'Catholic'..." It seems—to put it mildly—that more than a few Jesuits and Jesuit institutions have, over the past few decades, insisted on downplaying or simply redefining their "Catholic" identity. The "spirit of Vatican II," which has proven to be equally hazy and dispiriting, has led to a dramatic drop in vocations, as Russell Shaw notes in this January 2008 article for InsideCatholic.com:
In the United States, the Society reached its numerical high point in 1965, when American Jesuits totaled 8,393. Then the great exodus began. By 2002, more men had left since 1960 (5,892) than were then members (3,635). As of 2007, the number of Jesuits in the United States had fallen to 2,991.
Clearly, today's Jesuits aren't the same as yesterday's -- and that isn't all bad. The Society of 50 or 60 years ago had plenty of faults, though you would never get a Jesuit to admit that to an outsider. But the really big difference between then and now is that Jesuits then were a band of ultra-orthodox papal loyalists, while Jesuits now and for several decades have collectively cast themselves in the role of a shakily loyal opposition. In their disturbing 2002 report on the Society in the United States, Passionate Uncertainty, Peter McDonough and Eugene C. Bianchi, himself an ex-Jesuit, conclude that "tacit dissent" was a virtual way of life for many of those they interviewed.
Two of the reoccurring assertions/attempts at spin made in response to the plunge in numbers is that it reflects the positive involvement of the laity in the life of the Church following Vatican II (see, for example, this recent article) and that, paradoxically, the absence of Jesuits can lead to a greater Jesuit presence. A November 2007 article about Fairfield University, a Jesuit university in Connecticut, reports:
Fairfield University President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx has openly noted the decline in Jesuit priests in a student news conference last month. He also said that in the future, the Jesuit ideals can be upheld without the bodily presence of Jesuits through other members of faculty and administration who realize the importance of the Jesuit mission.
Fr. James Bowler, facilitator for Catholic and Jesuit mission and identity, agreed. He called for a "collaborative effort" among faculty, administrators and the Jesuits on campus to support the University's identity.
Since the second Vatican Council, there has been an effort to support laity in church roles. This can also reference their roles as a part of a Jesuit institution.
"We've got to train and empower non-Jesuits," said Fr. Bowler, who suggested there be a type of partnership between Jesuits and the laity.
The problem is not restricted to Fairfield but is evident on other Jesuit campuses as well.
In an article for Georgetown's student newspaper The Hoya in 2003, Georgetown professor Dennis McAullife wrote: "I now understand that the Jesuit and Catholic identity of Georgetown is not measured by the number of Jesuits active on campus. Though not everyone on campus is Catholic or even religious, there is a culture of respect for the values Jesuits hold and teach that touches every aspect of campus life."
And, yet, here we are five years later with the editors of The Hoya saying the complete opposite:
Maybe the Jesuits didn’t leave. But save for the occasional Jesuit professor, we rarely hear from the group that founded our school. And maybe they do care. We may be dead wrong, but students need them now more than ever. We would certainly love it if the Jesuits would come let us know.
So: No Jesuits = No Jesuit presence. Who would have thunk it?
• "Benedict challenges Jesuits: 'adhere completely to the Word of God'" (February 21, 2008)
• "Jesuit-trained novelist hopes to remake/rewrite the Church" (February 16, 2008)
• "A Jesuit argues that the Church needs priestettes" (January 30, 2008)
• "New Superior General of the Jesuits addresses the press" (January 25, 2008)
• "TIME-ly report on the "Black Pope" (January 20, 2008)