Greetings from President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.
We wear our urban identity with pride at Marquette. We are accustomed to having a variety of neighbors and understand that engaging them is part of our Ignatian mission. After all, St. Ignatius opened the first Jesuit school right in the center of Rome. He saw an advantage in having students learn where resources and human contact were most concentrated. And he believed that the university could be a catalyst for change in the community.
So the question of just what it means to be a neighbor in the Ignatian tradition is a fruitful topic for Marquette’s Mission Week, the annual examination of the richness of our Catholic and Jesuit traditions. This year, Mission Week runs Feb. 19 – 24 and will feature speeches, conversations and reflections inspired by the theme, “Who is My Neighbor?” — the question in the Gospel of Luke that prompts Jesus to share the story of the Good Samaritan. Challenged to provide detailed guidance for obeying the Commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus responds with the parable that reminds us that recognizing our neighbors may require putting aside prejudices and that the act of being a true neighbor may call us outside comfortable categories of thought.
Father Dean Brackley, S.J. — the longtime faith leader and theology professor at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, who received an honorary doctorate from Marquette this fall shortly before losing his life to cancer — recognized that our engagement with our neighbors can be life-altering. “When students arrive (from the United States for study in San Salvador) and deplane, most are apprehensive. They have heard about the past war, poverty and endemic crisis,” he wrote in his essay Higher Standards for Higher Education. “To their surprise, they spend much of their time in El Salvador wondering why these poor people are smiling and why they insist on sharing their tortillas with strangers like them. But as the humanity and dignity of the poor crash through their defenses, the people break their hearts. They feel disoriented, as people do when they fall in love. … Their world shakes and eventually gets reconfigured.”
As Father Brackley revealed so movingly, the love we show our neighbors in the Ignatian tradition is often transformative. And it is felt from the city blocks surrounding our campus to villages halfway around the globe. It is seen in the meals students serve to the hungry and homeless through the Noon Run program, in the medical and dental services provided to low-income people through our community clinics and in numerous service trips, including those through which Marquette student engineers work with communities in Honduras and Guatemala to build systems for distributing clean water and electricity. (The keynote address on Tuesday, Feb. 21, by Dr. Bernard Amadei, the founding president of Engineers Without Borders, the organization behind those engineering trips, will be a Mission Week highlight.)
In considering our care for our neighbors — and answering the question “Who is my neighbor?” — we at Marquette must not overlook those physically nearest to us, the fellow members of our campus community. If Marquette is to truly be Marquette, this must be the kind of place where people look out for one another and take care of one another. That’s the heart of who we are. Always.
The issues related to sexual violence that surfaced here in the last year have been troubling not just because our procedures proved to be inadequate, but because the reported behavior and the initial campus response to them compromised the care we owe each other according to our core Catholic and Jesuit values. Essential to Ignatius’ vision for the education we provide at Marquette is the idea of cura personalis, that we nurture what is unique and special about each member of our community in the same way that Ignatius felt God nurturing him. It’s a sacred trust between us that we must never allow to be violated.
We have done much in recent months to make sure there is zero tolerance for the kinds of incidents that happened last year. I urge you to read the update about the efforts we have put in place. And know that important work lies ahead as we continue to build a community characterized by the love, care and spirit of neighborly engagement that Ignatius calls us to.
Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.