A Certain Vision

Members of the Loyola community share what it means to be Jesuit educated

January 6, 2016

As a professor at Loyola University Maryland, I would like to sketch what seem to me to be distinguishing

I would like to focus on the intellectual and the spiritual vision, which animates—or should animate—our universities. characteristics of a Jesuit education these days.

The intellectual vision is embodied in the undergraduate curriculum. Most of our schools still offer a strong core curriculum, balanced by discipline-specific professional training through the election of a major. This balance between a broad humanistic-scientific formation and a more narrow specialized formation in one discipline distinguishes the Jesuit vision of education from that which animates many other American colleges, devoted to professional training alone or to a loose collection of elective courses that never demands that the student leave his or her academic comfort zone.

Here at Loyola, as at many Jesuit schools, philosophy and theology hold a certain pride of place. Through required philosophy courses, students learn to think critically about the broadest questions of existence: Does God exist? What makes humans different from other animals? Are moral judgments objective? With the good historical sense that marks most Jesuit philosophy departments, the student will pursue these questions in the company of those who have articulated them in depth: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas. In the theology courses, these questions are now viewed under the light of revelation. Moral, religious, and epistemological issues are now critically pondered from the perspective of Scripture, tradition, church history, and the teaching of the magisterium. This insistence that the entire community, and not only a few interested individuals, should explore a philosophical and theological approach to reality constitutes one of the distinguishing traits of modern Jesuit education. We abandon or weaken this philosophical-theological vision at our own peril.

The spiritual vision emerges primarily in the worship on campus. The celebration of Mass here at Loyola is always a joy for me. It involves more than good spiritual dispositions. The architectural beauty of our collegiate chapel, the quality of the music (both classical and folk) offered by our liturgical choirs (directed by the energetic George Miller, ’76), and the quality of the training given to our students serving as lay liturgical ministers make our liturgical worship a real locus of beauty and fervor. A very active retreat program here presents the heritage of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises in a variety of formats. So much time is spent promoting Ignatian discernment in the university that the word “discernment” has become somewhat of a campus joke—a benign joke that reminds us of our hidden roots in the soul of Ignatius of Loyola.

In a dispiriting time on many Jesuit campuses, where increasingly few students claim a religious commitment, it is essential to fight the good fight against mediocrity and sentimentality in our worship.

This intellectual and spiritual vision remains the central gift we offer here at a Jesuit school like Loyola Maryland. The depth and rigor of that vision remains one of my ongoing concerns as a priest and professor serving a Jesuit university.

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The Rev. John Conley, S.J., is the Bernard P. Knott Chair of Philosophy and Theology at Loyola University Maryland—and, having earned his Master of Arts in Philosphy from Fordham University, Fr. Conley is Jesuit educated himself.

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