The Magazine of Marquette University | Summer 2006

 

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Catholic and Jesuit

What does it mean at Marquette?

While I do think it is important in terms of Marquette's religious identity not to be generic, “Judeo-Christian” or something like that, but to be what we have always been, Catholic and Jesuit, we do well to remember that about a third of our present students are not Roman Catholic. In that regard I am sometimes asked whether having so many students of other faiths enrolled at Marquette detracts from our identity as a Catholic university and I say no, decidedly no. The presence of these men and women enriches us as a university, helps us to consider questions that we might otherwise not consider, gives the university community a wider perspective. In turn, we try to assist these individuals to engage more deeply with their own particular faith tradition.

"We here at Marquette feel privileged to be able to travel this road with our students, to assist them as they grow both in knowledge and in faith so that they become men and women who will not only experience personal success in their chosen profession but will, as wise, caring and faith-filled leaders, make a truly positive difference in our world."

You will hear people say that schools like Marquette are less Catholic today. To the contrary, I would argue that most of our American Catholic universities - Marquette certainly among them - are far more forthright, far more explicit, far more self-critical about their Catholic identity than they were 30 or 40 years ago. In this regard, we are not shy these days about stating who we are and what we think it important for us to be. Furthermore, we not only have a mission statement; we work hard to make sure that we live out the values it proclaims. Where once we left it to the Jesuits to take care of the religious and faith dimensions of the university, we now work to have all of our faculty and staff involved in actualizing Marquette's Jesuit and Catholic commitment.

To be sure, a faculty member's first responsibility is to teach with skill and excellence his or her specific academic discipline. Indeed, faculty members contribute in a vital way to the mission of this university when they teach and do research with excellence, for this is the primary work God expects them to do. But in their concern to be effective communicators, in the way they take into account their students' experiences, in their overall attention to the needs of their individual students, they necessarily communicate to their students their own personal values. And we encourage our professors to recognize, honor and work constantly to improve this aspect of their work.

I think we've been very successful in fostering real pride in our identity and mission. It certainly wasn't a coincidence that during recent visits by accrediting bodies from the North Central Association of Colleges and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, both groups commented that it was unique to find, as they did at Marquette, students, faculty and staff members all clearly articulating our mission and the role they share in helping the university live it.

I personally take a lot of satisfaction in our progress in this regard, but this could not have happened without a university-wide commitment. If I as president were to just wave my hands and hope good things will then happen, or even if I were to send down an edict from on high. …well, in a university things just don't work that way. People who don't want to do something can find an infinity of ways to appear cooperative when in fact they are anything but. And so my goal has been to work steadfastly day by day to win minds and hearts for the cause because, frankly, I don't believe that people can be coerced into being good stewards of our university's mission.

Not that there is no room for further improvement in how we conduct this critical aspect of our business, the forwarding of our Catholic and Jesuit identity. At times we make mistakes, and of course the very character of a university, its willingness to allow odd, even truly strange ideas to be discussed and advanced, can make it look at times as though we don't adequately protect our religious values. But I will tell you that when the presidents of Catholic universities get together these days, it is clear that they take very seriously their responsibility for ensuring that their schools remain committed to their Catholic character.

•••

It continues to be such a pleasure to be a part of this university, a university at which on a daily basis our students are exposed to varying points of view and find themselves wrestling with deep questions of faith, of ethics, of who they individually are as human beings and to what specific vocation they are personally invited. The university thus becomes an environment in which such questions are very much in play, and helping our students to discover answers to such questions is no small part of what we do.

Of course there are challenges facing Catholic universities, the biggest being how we can keep this sense of purpose, this strong sense of identity and dedication to our mission vital and strong in the future. More and more of our universities will have lay men and women replacing clergy as presidents. Can we in this changing circumstance maintain our Catholic identity? My short answer, and one I give strongly and firmly is yes, with work we can indeed do so. Certainly here at Marquette, we are doing whatever can be done humanly to ensure that over time the kinds of values that we treasure now can be values that are in place 50 or 100 years from now and looking for further ways that we can still better accomplish this. You know, the old Jesuit search for the magis, the still better way to accomplish what God wishes for us and for this institution. Still, there are no guarantees; each generation has to take responsibility for this.

That said, we here at Marquette feel privileged to be able to travel this road with our students, to assist them as they grow both in knowledge and in faith so that they become men and women who will not only experience personal success in their chosen profession but will, as wise, caring and faith-filled leaders, make a truly positive difference in our world. Our communities, our nation and our world need a continuing legacy of principled leaders, and we are committed to developing students who will respond to that call. And in the tradition of Ignatius of Loyola, we ourselves are striving day by day to improve and strengthen all that we do for God's greater glory. To my mind, you can't be engaged in a more Catholic or Jesuit enterprise than that.

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