I love the Jesuits. I pray for their conversion daily.
Maybe my prayers are going to be answered. While lounging in my hotel room last week, on a business trip to Boston, I was jolted, upright, by the TV news announcer who related that Boston College, a flagship of the Society of Jesus, i.e., the Jesuits, had placed crucifixes in 151 classrooms at the school over the Christmas break. This was done, reportedly, at the instructions of President Rev. William P. Leahy, as a means of reconnecting with the college’s “Catholic Mission.”
As one who attended a Jesuit high school, college and law school, during the long, slow downward trajectory of the 1960s and 1970s, who cringed at the once proud order’s flirtation with heterodoxy and secularism, this was an astounding turn of events.
Imagine: a Jesuit school embracing the cross. This was so un-hip, so un-modern, so un-American, so…Catholic. And I mean Roman Catholic.
I am the third generation of my family to attend Jesuit schools in this country. Between my father, my grandfather and me — forget about my uncles and cousins — we have close to 40 years logged in Jesuit institutions if you throw in medical school internships and residencies. We all owe a great debt to the many fine men of faith, who also valued knowledge, learning, and scholarship; who saw no inherent conflict between reason and revelation; and who were lived a distinctly Catholic form of pietas as first embodied by Virgil’s Aeneas about whom we all read in Jesuit prep schools.
I have known or known of Jesuits who worked on Indian reservations, in psychiatric wards, in the stacks of the Vatican library (my alma mater, Saint Louis University, had the whole collection duplicated on microfilm!), in classrooms, and laboratories. There was one who could spend a whole semester demolishing every rational proof for the existence of God, only to spend the closing weeks of class arguing for the reasonableness of Scripture (interpreted through Tradition, of course).
I knew another Jesuit, whom I never had in class, who coached high school debate and oratory, sort of. He really just asked penetrating questions, listened, patiently, to our obnoxious pontificating, and kept forcing us to learn through trial and error and honest self-criticism. He helped me put together a reading list for the summer between my first and second years of college that was better than any one syllabus I ever had thereafter.
But, as the dreary decades wore on, many prominent members of the order seemed to specialize in dissent and even outright opposition to the Church and its magisterium which they had vowed to serve. Moreover, following their issuance of the 1967 Land O’ Lakes (WI) Statement, the Jesuits turned over their colleges and universities to lay boards in order to curry favor with Caesar and make peace with the Zeitgeist. With the decline in vocations, the institutional and Christian culture of their schools was diluted even further.
There are many exceptions, individual and institutional. My old high school actually sends a good number of students to the local archdiocesan seminary.
Catholicism is a sacramental religion. Placing the crucifix at the center of its intellectual life, nay, amidst all its labors of both mind and body, is most appropriate since it reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice by the One who, to use a phrase common to the Jesuits, is truly a man for others.
So bravo for the Jesuits of Boston College! The Lord does work in mysterious ways.