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Duffy said it is part of the Lane Center’s goal to plant the Jesuit roots of the school deep. In that, he said, may lay the answer. “If we are clear about what the mission is, does it really matter who is communicating that mission?” he said. “There are plenty of people here who are not religious and they are still able to understand our values and motivate people around them. It will be different when there are fewer Jesuits, but we do not have any control over that.”
David Gibson, author of The Coming Catholic Church, said that change is already here. Georgetown and Gonzaga universities, two Jesuit stalwarts, are now led by laymen. But that, he said, hasn’t meant a sacrifice of their Jesuit and Catholic values. He, too, believes the strength of Jesuit education rests with students.
“It has always surprised me how people just light up when they talk about their experience with Jesuits,” he said. “It wasn’t just a single episode of their lives, but (it) really stuck with them. They really imbibe their values and world view and spirituality, and decades later they are still walking the walk. When you see that kind of impact, I am confident this transition from a purely clerical leadership to a mixture of lay and clergy leadership will be successful.”
As recent architecture graduates, Irene Kim ’09 and David Castro ’09 are where the future of Jesuit education rests. As Wachtel’s students, both contributed to the Quesada Gardens Initiative. Castro also spent time in Nicaragua designing and constructing a community center for the rural poor. Both were raised Catholic, but neither currently practices. Still, both credit USF with helping them maintain their ties to their faith. “I don’t feel connected to Catholicism,” Kim said, “but that is one thing I can have a lot of respect for, the message to help others.” Castro said social justice, as taught at USF, is a Catholic value that has stayed with him. “It is just always on your mind, it’s just a part of your process,” he said. Both plan to direct their careers in architecture to design for the poor and underserved, and both said they could someday be drawn back to practicing their faith.
Should USF officials be satisfied if students like Kim and Castro do not practice Catholicism’s rituals, but act on its teachings? Absolutely, said the McCarthy Center’s Murphy. “These students have chosen to live in a manner consistent with the teachings of Christ and the Church…. I much prefer it to the person who spends most of their time and career engaged in selfish pursuits that add little or nothing to society, yet one hour a week they show up at church and can recite the Baltimore Catechism.”
Duffy, of the Lane Center, is more circumspect. “I don’t feel that in Jesuit education anything is ever enough,” he said. “Going to Mass and taking communion are essential elements, but hardly all that Catholicism encompasses. My hope is that at some point in the future, our students will make these connections on their own.”
And Fr. Privett said, “I would like people to understand that their impulse to pursue justice and do good is of God. Whether acknowledged by them or not, they are clearly doing God’s work and that will prove a blessing for them and those they serve.”
“Jesuits, you might say, have faith in faith,” said Gibson, himself a convert as a result of time among Jesuits. “They believe that by their witness of service, education, and openness, they will be a witness to the faith and some people will choose it. They don’t try to convert people by beating them over the head, but by showing them the Jesuit way through the Catholic faith with the goal of affecting the wider society.”
Fr. Privett put it this way. “The Catholic tradition is a huge tent, a 15-ring circus. I think we need to be able to cultivate a tolerance and understanding that there has always been this breadth…. Sometimes, that leads to tensions. But those tensions are part of what it means to be a Catholic. And I think those tensions are an invitation to conversation.”