Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J.

Vatican II sparked a college student's interest in the Society of Jesus

By Linda Strowbridge  |  Photo by Cory Donovan
Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J.

When Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., first encountered Jesuits, the Catholic Church was going through an exhilarating period of debate, reflection, renewal, and change.

The Second Vatican Council had touched off eclectic discussions about the role of the Church in modern times, options to bring new vigor and members to Catholic congregations, reinterpretations of liturgy, the work of bishops, ways to unify all Christians, the need for Christian-Jewish reconciliation, and hot-button contemporary issues, including contraception, marriage, and the arms race.

“The Church was examining itself in new ways, and addressing the most urgent issues of the day in a direct way. I realized that the Church and the priests who led it had an opportunity to have a voice in the changes that were influencing our society,” Fr. Linnane said.

As a student of theology at Boston College, Fr. Linnane began to learn more about the Jesuit mission from his ordained professors.

He also began to realize there were new ways to be a Jesuit. Most of his young, Jesuit professors wore secular clothes rather than the Roman collar. They embraced options to live in small groups rather than traditional, large, communal residences.

“Many of them were doing new types of ministry, such as direct service, direct work with the materially poor,” Fr. Linnane said.

Fr. Linnane, who had been an altar boy as a youth, began to think hard about becoming a Jesuit.

The order’s commitment to education and passion for a “renewed society” meshed with his desire to teach and to tackle social injustices.

His decision-making was also aided by “some wonderful friends who were so extraordinarily generous and wanted to help you find your way to greater closeness with God, find out what you wanted to do with your life,” he said.

After attending a retreat of election during his senior year, Fr. Linnane applied to enter the Society of Jesus. His initial months in a Boston novitiate were packed with fascinating opportunities.

A 30-day retreat by the coast in Gloucester was “an extraordinarily rich experience.”

Then Fr. Linnane and four of his colleagues flew to Jamaica to begin their work in a developing country.

“Kingston is and was very poor and very violent,” he said. “The day I arrived a police officer was shot and killed in front of the Daily Gleaner newspaper. As I walked from our college to the very poor area where I did pastoral visits, I watched those blood stains fade over the next four months. To me, it was very telling. It’s great to be in a retreat house and watch the sun set and sun rise over the Atlantic and have this spiritual high. But when you hit the nitty gritty of the world, when you are hit in the face with the realities of poverty and injustice and indifference, what do you fall back onto? Is there staying power in the spiritual call you experienced?”

Fr. Linnane found that staying power and ever-deepening insights as he worked with city children in America, served as a class dean at the College of the Holy Cross, and earned graduate degrees in government, divinity, and religious studies. Fr. Linnane, who has always had a passion for teaching, came to believe that it is an extraordinary and sacred privilege to provide a Jesuit education to young people.

“You have the warm and fuzzies,” he said. Those are the easy, satisfying relationships between motivated students and teachers who naturally like each other “and love to talk on an intellectual level and solve the world’s problems.”

Often, deeper satisfaction comes from dealing with troubled students: young people dealing with addictions or eating disorders, international students struggling with the challenges of a new country, and students who are silently grieving the loss of a parent or sibling or friend.

“There are kids who really get that you are helping them. And you realize that you are extraordinarily privileged to be in the middle of that situation as an academic. What you are doing here is very sacred,” Fr. Linnane said.

Although he regretted leaving the classroom when he became president of Loyola University Maryland in 2005, Fr. Linnane said, “It is very exciting as an educator to be able to think through where you want an entire institution to go, how you can make it better, and how our students can represent the University’s goals.”

Terrence Sawyer, J.D., vice president for administration, said Fr. Linnane has led enormous progress at Loyola in the last six years. His intellect, thoughtfulness, and willingness to listen to and synthesize diverse opinions has enabled Loyola to ease through major transitions, including a designation change, a new strategic plan, a comprehensive campaign, and other undertakings spearheaded by the president.

One of the most notable? The living-learning initiative, set to launch in the fall of 2013, in which all first-year students will take several key classes with neighbors in their residence halls and participate in a variety of intentional co- and extracurricular programs designed to inspire excitement about intellectual engagement and the building of a community of learners.

“The living-learning initiative is going to tangibly distinguish us from other institutions,” said Susan Donovan, Ph.D., executive vice president of the University. “It builds on the strengths of our current first-year programs and meets students ‘where they are’ as they enter the University. It engages them in close contact with faculty, student development administrators, and their peers in challenging classroom experiences and relevant cocurricular opportunities. This generation of students is perfect for this because they want this level of contact with mentors but do not always know how to ask for it.”

Fr. Linnane stressed that his greatest goal at Loyola is to generate “good product”—students who are fully engaged in academic life, thinking critically, producing excellent work, and comprehending and living Jesuit values.

“I think our living-learning program is going to do something phenomenal for our educational experience and really kick start that excitement of life of the mind in terms of being educated in the Jesuit tradition,” Fr. Linnane said. “That is what I hope my legacy will be.”

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