October 25, 2013 — Jesuit Father Brian F. Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, feels strongly that a university — particularly a Jesuit university — has a responsibility to create men and women for others. In Loyola University’s annual Commitment to Justice Lecture earlier this fall, Fr. Linnane offered a historic look at the role of the university in preparing its students to lead lives of service.
“When we talk about justice, we are speaking about both social and individual virtue,” Fr. Linnane said. “We need to find ways to engage our students in appreciating and cultivating both of these aspects, and then seeking ways to apply it in their communities. No matter what they study while here at Loyola, students will encounter questions after graduation — so teaching them reflection and action for justice is also necessary. Because the truth is that questions of justice are always evolving.”
Fr. Linnane took his audience back to the founding of the Society of Jesus and then through the evolution of university education over the past hundreds of years. “Biblical witness shows us that God is on the side of the poor and those marginalized by society. But although it was clear that Christianity called people to serve those whose voices were not being heard, there was this thought that there was a dichotomy between university life and service of the poor,” he said.
Fr. Linnane said that the university was seen as a fairly soft life, a time for study, but not for service. “There was not an expectation that university graduates would need to serve or act on issues of justice in the world. That just wasn’t seen as the purpose of university education. The life in the Ivory Tower was not one where academics wanted to get their hands dirty,” said Fr. Linnane.
In his remarks Fr. Linnane also discussed how the work of the 32nd General Congregation (1974-75) for the Society of Jesus changed that perspective within Jesuit universities.
“That commitment to social justice, which had been implicit in our Jesuit tradition, became explicit within Jesuit higher education. And what we have come to see is that schools have been among the most effective at promoting social justice — not just within Jesuit higher education, but in other institutions of higher education.
“Unless a college or university compels a student to consider the issues of social existence — ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What are my obligations to others, especially those most in need?’ — the graduate has an education but no sense of needing to use it to better the world,” Fr. Linnane said. [Loyola University Maryland]