August 19, 2016
BY JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
Recent editions of First Teachers have featured letters from readers who are unhappy with the drift toward secular liberalism and politically correct cultural views at Jesuit universities. This week we offer a different perspective, not from parents of students at Jesuit colleges but from a Jesuit priest. We will identify him only as a “Jesuit correspondent” to preserve his anonymity. You will have to take my word that he is who he says he is.
This priest does not pull his punches: He says the critics of Jesuit higher education who wrote to First Teachers are “on the money,” that modern Jesuit educators have “squandered the patrimony donated by Irish, German, Italian, and other European immigrants who built the Jesuit colleges and universities.” He says that he bases his views on what he has seen “watching the decline of Jesuit universities since 1987. The Society of Jesus has just given up trying to control and keep Catholic its universities.”
Strong words, but our correspondent backs them up: “There is a complete lack of will. Spiritually, Jesuit superiors have ignored Ignatius’ meditation of the ‘Two Standards’ — the Devil tempts first by riches, second by fame and honor, and third by pride. The Society has fallen to temptation on all three counts in regard to their universities.”
Our Jesuit correspondent points to how “riches, honor, and pride have weakened the wills and darkened the minds of the Jesuit decision-makers. Avarice, vainglory, and pride have led to other vices that feed the desire to have a university that is competitive according to secular criteria.” He is confirming what many outside the order suspect: that the modern Jesuits are seeking to curry favor with their peers in the secular academic world.
Our correspondent quickly adds, “This is not to say that there are not some good, orthodox members of the Society of Jesus swimming against the current. There are still pockets of Catholic faith at Jesuit universities. There are retreats, service projects, and some good faculty at all the schools.”
Our correspondent then makes an ironic observation. He contends that the presence of these “pockets of Catholic faith” at modern Jesuit universities “makes them equal to Texas A&M with their outstanding Newman Center, which has produced a steady stream of vocations for decades.” I guess that is what people mean by a back-handed compliment: No doubt Texas A&M’s Newman Center does admirable work. But one would think that Catholic parents paying the steep tuition at a Jesuit university are entitled to expect something more.
Our Jesuit correspondent adds another poignant observation. He writes of a Jesuit provincial who once said, “If someone offered the Society key administrative positions, campus ministry, and several professorships at a private or state university we would probably take that offer….That is what we have with our universities.”
Our Jesuit correspondent underscores the point: “This administrator had already seen that control of our universities has passed out of the order’s hands, and what the so-called Jesuit universities of today offer is little more than good ministerial possibilities to the order.”
Our Jesuit correspondent closes with the following: “It is sad that the Society has let their universities become as corrupt as any secular institution. Let donors beware. The Land O’Lakes agreement,” which severed the authority of Church authorities over Catholic colleges in the name of academic freedom, “was a disaster caused by pride and overconfidence in Catholic cultural resilience.”
Reading the comments of this Jesuit educator leads one to ponder if modern Jesuits are aware that they give the impression that their goal is to organize their schools to please non-Catholic critics of Catholic education, with little concern for the wishes of those who have historically been most loyal and supportive of the Church and Catholic schools.
I am not exaggerating for emphasis: When reading the promotional literature of modern Jesuit colleges, I sometimes am struck by the thought that Jesuit universities have concluded that Catholics with traditional values are what is wrong with the Church, and that they seek the formation of a new kind of Catholic, someone more likely to be found at a meeting of the Sierra Club than at a novena.
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