Loyola University Maryland

Office of the President

Designation Convocation Address 2009

Loyola University Maryland
Designation Convocation Address

September 25, 2009
The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, S.J.

Your Excellency Archbishop O’Brien . . . Dr. DeGioia . . . State of Maryland Officials . . . Trustees . . . Alumni . . . Faculty and Staff . . . Students:

Thank you all for honoring Loyola by being with us today.

It should be possible, on this celebratory occasion, to state with clarity and state with precision precisely what we are celebrating. And you might think that I, as the first president of Loyola University Maryland, would be able to make that clear, precise statement.

I am not sure that I can.

What exactly are we celebrating? What is Loyola University Maryland?

Let me start with the obvious: Loyola University Maryland is what it has been for many years. Today marks a continuation of, not a departure from, our heritage. We are not becoming a university. We remain a university.

This, however, dodges the tougher question: What is Loyola University Maryland?

As I reflected on this question, no burst of insight arrived. I had no epiphanies. My mind drifted.

And I found myself thinking back to a time, about a half century ago, when a young man struggled, as I struggle today, to explain a simple, three-word phrase. In his brief and brilliant career, this man seldom struggled. But this day was different. This day, he was searching for a way to define the phrase “The New Frontier.”

The speaker, of course, was President John F. Kennedy. And he stated, eloquently as always, that the New Frontier was not a set of promises but a set of challenges. The New Frontier described aspirations, not achievements. It referred not to what is but to what might be.

I found this helpful. And I will borrow from it unapologetically.

I believe that we must understand from the beginning, starting now, that the phrase Loyola University Maryland refers not to an achievement, but to an aspiration. Yes, it describes, as I have asserted for many years, what we have already become. But in a deeper sense, our new designation denotes not what is, but what might be. It signifies our potential.

Loyola University Maryland is a set of challenges.

Loyola University Maryland is not a statement about who we are at this moment but about what we might become in the years ahead.

Let me risk stating this point more boldly: Right now, the fact that we call ourselves a university counts for little.

This statement generates some obvious questions.

Then why are we all dressed in this finery? Why are there all these men and women wearing medieval-style robes? Why the music? Why such distinguished guests?

Yes, we are celebrating. But the essential point is that what we celebrate today is a genesis, not a terminus. We celebrate the beginning of a voyage. Today we say, with the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, “Pray that the road is long.”

Pray that the road is long and full of adventure and full of learning and that the summer mornings are many.

Cavafy’s poem is called Ithaca. It is about Odysseus. And it is a reminder that it is not our destination that inspires us and fills us with wonder at the beauty of creation. It is the voyage.

But what about the obstacles in our way? What about the dangers? What about the Cyclops, for example? What about the fierce Poseidon?

Cavafy’s poem offers us a wise lesson. Here’s what it says: You will never encounter the Cyclops or Poseidon so long as you do not “carry them in your soul.”

We will not carry monsters in our souls. In this world, this place where God works, we will see the magic in the mundane. We will see the divine in the ordinary. We will meet our obligations, and we will find joy in challenge.

Pray that the road is long.

It is this long road ahead that we celebrate today. It is the hard work. We celebrate the knowledge that we can do better . . . and we will do better.

Today, we recommit ourselves to the education of the whole person. We recommit ourselves to the highest standards of academic excellence and academic integrity.

We recommit ourselves to our Catholic belief in the complementarity of faith and reason. We recommit ourselves to rejecting the ethical neutrality that leaves evil unopposed and our conscience in a slumber. And we recommit ourselves to social justice. We will lift up those who have been left out.

As a university, our reach will be greater. Our influence will be wider. Our impact will be stronger. And we will become, in time, our nation’s leading Catholic comprehensive university.

The nation’s leading Catholic comprehensive university.

That sounds a little arrogant, doesn’t it? That sounds a little short on humility. Perhaps there’s some bravado there.

I do not see it that way. To say that we will become the nation’s leading Catholic comprehensive university is not a statement of bravado. It is a statement of fact.

I know we have what it takes. We have the will to excel, and we have the Loyola community. I believe we will become the nation’s leading Catholic comprehensive university because I believe in you.

I believe in the alumni who have brought us so far and whose support sustains us. I believe in the parents who entrust us with their children. I believe in our students. And I believe in the faculty, staff, and administration of this university.

I believe in you because I have seen you transform our students . . . those students who arrive here anxious and leave here confident . . . those students who come here unsteady in conviction and leave here committed to the ideals contained in four simple words — Strong Truths, Well Lived.

I have also seen — and I like this — students who arrive here with a lot of answers and leave here with a lot fewer answers.

This is a good thing.

Loyola graduates leave here “healthily puzzled.” They leave here in what the ancient Greeks called a state of aporia. Aporia is a kind of intellectual discomfort, maybe even intellectual Angst, that creates a restless desire to know more.

This restless desire to know is one of the reasons our students are so intellectually agile and so spiritually tough. Our faculty and staff transform them. And this transformative impact is a tribute to their leadership.

Leadership: Let me explain that word because I am using it in a very precise sense.

I link leadership with character. I believe that leadership springs from within. It begins with who I am, not what I do. It is inner strength.

We have this strength, and it serves us well. It is the same strength that has carried Loyola through other transitions.

It is the same strength that got us through a difficult time in 1912 when an antenna was constructed on Loyola property, giving rise to the moral dilemma that Loyola students could now listen to the radio. This meant they would be exposed to New Orleans jazz, to the ragtime tunes of Scott Joplin, and they could hear the provocative lyrics of songs like “A Bicycle Built for Two.”

Of course, they could also listen to “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” so there was an upside.

There were more serious challenges. Tragic challenges. 350 Loyola men served in World War I. Not all returned. During the War years, so many young men joined the armed services that there was serious talk about closing the College due to lack of enrollment.

The year 1920 brought the fear that, with Prohibition strictly enforced, it might not be possible to obtain the wine needed for the sacrifice of the Mass.

Then the war came. Enrollment plummeted once again. A year after victory, in 1946, 75 percent of all Loyola students were veterans of World War II.

The first African American students attended Loyola in 1943. And in 1945, at the close of World War II, the mother of a Jewish student wrote a letter commending Loyola for the way her son was treated and contrasted this treatment with the treatment of Jews at other institutions of higher education.

On-campus housing arrived in 1967. The 80 residents of the Hammerman House obeyed a strict curfew. The curfew lasted one year.

In 1971, Loyola merged with Mount Saint Agnes College. This decision to become a coeducational institution was perhaps the wisest decision in all of Loyola’s history. The benefits were immediate and powerful. The curriculum expanded. The faculty improved. One year after the merger, Loyola’s president, Father Joseph Sellinger , who had always wanted Loyola to remain an all-male institution, issued this statement: “Loyola is an appreciably better college today than it was last year at this time.”

Father Sellinger added, by the way, that Loyola also seemed to be “a happier place.’

In 1980, Loyola established the School of Business and Management, which now bears the name of Father Sellinger.

Today we announce that the school of arts and sciences, now and forever our liberal arts anchor, will henceforth be known as Loyola College. And on October 14, we will launch Loyola’s third school, our school of education.

I have given at best a thumbnail sketch of Loyola’s history, a few highlights.

What does it tell us?

It tells us that that while tectonic shifts often shake the political and social landscape, there is, at Loyola, the enduring. There is the unchanging. There is moral solidity and spiritual sturdiness.

We express our fidelity to enduring values without embarrassment. We don’t worry about being out of step. We do not push to one side the unseen. We do not turn from the mysterious. And we are not agnostic when it comes to what we expect of our students.

Let me address the students who are with us today directly. You know what we ask of you. We ask that you embrace Saint Augustine’s affirmation of the importance of human intelligence. We expect you to respect his directive —intellectum valde ama. Love your mind mightily.

We expect you to understand that the mind mightily loved uncovers not just the facts of physics but the imperatives of ethics. And it provides us with entry into what the Iranian novelist Azar Nafisi calls the “Republic of the Imagination” — this artistic republic that knows no borders.

The Republic of the Imagination is inclusive. There we find the music of Stravinsky . . . and the music of Springsteen. We find the poetry of Dante . . . and the poetry of Rap artists. There, in the Republic of the Imagination, Leonardo de Vinci rubs shoulders with Andy Warhol. St. Thomas Aquinas converses with Jean-Paul Sartre. Scientists argue with theologians.

We want you, our students, to be at home in the Republic of the Imagination. And we are confident that your citizenship in this republic will give rise to a readiness to serve and a willingness to sacrifice.

The mind mightily loved is mightily responsive to our responsibility to others. The mind mightily loved understands our obligation to build a more just, more compassionate, and more egalitarian social order.

Loyola University Maryland expects to be among the architects of this social order. We will act on the conviction, rooted in our faith, that we must recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every human life. And our disciplined intellectual inquiry will help us make the case that the most vulnerable among us are not a burden, but a responsibility. They are our brothers and sisters. They are us. Humanity is one family.

I return to where I began. Loyola University Maryland is an aspiration, not an achievement. This day is not about a new promise, but about a promise renewed. Today, we pledge new dedication to old commitments. And we pledge ourselves to a relentless effort to help make gentle the life of this world.

This is what we celebrate today. We are an intellectual and spiritual community that is united by a common goal. We are a university. The goal of our university is to enlarge the universe of knowledge and to expand the universe of love.

We will speak strong truths. We will live them well.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam.