GU Identity Crisis

By the

August 30, 2001

What does it mean for Georgetown to not have a Jesuit president? The question of how Georgetown’s Catholic identity will change due to the absence of a Jesuit president began to swirl long before layperson John J. DeGioia replaced Father Leo O’Donovan, S.J. as the University’s 48th president this past July.

One of the first “obstacles” that DeGioia has had to face as a layperson is being the first president to not perform Mass at the school-wide Mass of the Holy Spirit. Instead, DeGioia shared his reflections on Georgetown’s Catholic identity. Making several references to Bible verses throughout his speech, it seemed almost as if he wished he were the one presiding over the Mass. If every layperson president is going to be a devout Catholic, is it significant that the University president does not perform the ceremony?

On the one hand, when the University’s Catholic identity stands in the way of permitting birth control to be distributed anywhere on campus, how can the University believe it is not promoting unprotected sex? When the University bars groups such as H*yas for Choice from distributing information outside of Red Square, every student in this community is not being allowed to fully express his or her view, it is difficult to figure out why this aspect of the University has not moved into the 21st Century. If Georgetown wants to be recognized as a institution that teaches its students lessons that reflect modern trends, then, yes, the University’s Catholic identity is holding it back from fully achieving this end.

With all this in mind, it is likewise important to examine the positive aspects of Georgetown’s Catholic identity. It can be viewed as the source from which a sense of community exists between each student, faculty and staff member of the University. Though not every individual may be conscious of the direct or indirect infiltration of such Jesuit ideals into their minds, it is seen through their actions for the Georgetown community. An example of this is when students gathered together a year-and-a-half ago to show their unity against intolerance on our campus. Though no words were spoken about Jesuits or Catholic identity in the unity rally, the ideals of respect for the dignity of every person could clearly be seen that day.

So with the inauguration of the Georgetown’s first layperson president this October, it is not likely that the absence of a Jesuit president will have much effect on the University’s Catholic identity. DeGioia has already made it clear that he places Georgetown’s Jesuit core very high on his list of priorities.

Georgetown’s Catholic identity is a huge draw for a large percentage of students on this campus, and no one comes here blind to the fact that Catholicism will be a predominant force in their lives here. For those who are not Catholic and do not necessarily agree with all of the Church’s tenets, it is important to embrace the ideals that come with the Jesuit tradition. In short, we must learn to respect the University’s Catholic identity for what it adds?good or bad?to our experience on the Hilltop.

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