President’s Message: ROTC at a Jesuit University
One evening as I was speaking with Ed Hanway, ’74, he commented on the thunderous applause the new ROTC officers receive each year at Commencement. Ed, who chairs our Board of Trustees, remembers a very different attitude toward ROTC cadets when he was a student during the Vietnam War era.
We fell into conversation about ROTC. When I was teaching at the College of the Holy Cross in the late 1990s, I told Ed, the world was at peace. The young people in the Navy ROTC there were commissioned. Then the next day they received a letter discharging them from service.
“They really lucked out,” Ed replied. And I said, “See, I fell into that trap, too!” You think how fortunate these young people were to receive their college education for free and then find they are free of any commitment. But they were devastated. They had wanted to serve and welcomed that obligation.
The people who join ROTC see the military not just as a career path, but also as a vocation. They train through their college years to serve their country. And the students who join ROTC today, nearly 10 years after the terrifying tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, answer this call knowing that our country is at war.
We hold our ROTC commissioning ceremony each May in our Alumni Memorial Chapel. Some would argue that an ROTC battalion has no place on a Catholic campus, least of all in its chapel. The truth is, however, that the Roman Catholic tradition has never been one of unqualified pacifism. St. Augustine grappled with this issue in the fifth century, finding that there is just too much evil in our world, and that Catholics have an obligation to defend the innocent against aggression.
Indeed, it is perhaps particularly fitting that we hold this ceremony in a chapel of the Roman Catholic Church, a church whose ideals have been challenged throughout history. The men and women who take their oaths in this ceremony swear to protect an idea—the United States Constitution—that has also faced opposition throughout its existence. But without its existence, without its protection, without the defense provided by our military, the right of Catholics to hold our beliefs dear becomes instantly vulnerable. It is profoundly moving to watch our cadets take this oath.
Each year when I speak at the commissioning ceremony, I say that it is appropriate that these young people have been educated at a university that challenges them to question their own views and understand others’ perspectives. Our core curriculum pushes these future officers to consider fundamental questions as we help them develop the character that will serve them, the soldiers they lead, and our nation.
The education we offer at Loyola aims to helps these ROTC officers, and all of our students, become leaders with care and concern for society. We help students see themselves as members of a larger community, both locally and globally. Our faculty teaches them to think critically, to learn how to learn. As Loyola educates the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—we offer students both intellectual agility and spiritual stamina. We endeavor, through the rigor of our courses, the richness of our social and athletic opportunities, the depth of our service programs, and the strengths of the bonds built here, to provide our students with an experience that will guide them and inspire them for the rest of their lives. And, in the officers commissioned through Loyola ROTC, you see the impact of that experience brought to life, ready to change and better the world—for all of us.
None of us can know the challenges our students—and our society—will face in the future. Still, if each of them leaves with a sense of self-sacrifice, a commitment to service, and an education that has prepared them to face these challenges with pragmatism and courage, we can know we are succeeding.
The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, S.J.