Academic Read #2: What Does It Mean To Attend a Jesuit University?

From our Mission Statement: “In keeping with its Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic heritage and identity, Gonzaga…cultivates in its students the capacities and dispositions for reflective and critical thought, lifelong learning, and ethical discernment.”

“In high school, I didn’t even know what a Jesuit was. One day, while trying to spark a political debate in statistics class (yes, you read that right), my ever-patient teacher finally lost his patience. “If you don’t go to a Jesuit university, Furlong, it’s a waste of all your God-given talent to turn everything into a philosophical debate.”

I hadn’t the faintest clue of what on earth he was talking about. “What the hell is a Jesuit university,” I thought? And so I sat quietly, promising myself to Google it the moment class ended. What I found changed my college search, and, years later, I can also say something quite dramatic: It changed my life.

But when I arrived at Loyola Marymount, something surprising happened: I hated it. I was the only person from New Mexico, and I struggled with everything from making friends to navigating a city that had more than two freeways intersecting it. I called an old high school teacher, distraught, and vowed to transfer. She listened with patience and when I finished, her response left something to be desired: “OK,” she said. “OK?” I asked. “Don’t you have anything else to say?” Silence hung on the line till at last she said, “I just hope you are running toward something, not away from it. Because if it’s something you’re running away from, it will catch you, no matter where you end up. Find something that ignites the passion I know exists in you, and LMU will become home to you.”

I hope you find a way to make Gonzaga more than a place where you take classes: Make it your home. Gonzaga can capture your heart and your mind, but only if you let it. Meals in the BARC, attending basketball games in the Kennel Club, and going to fun events you can find advertised on the The Wall are a great start. But I hope you go beyond that. You may not realize it yet, but the fact you’re at a Jesuit school…that’s something special. Catchphrases like A.M.D.G (For the Greater Glory of God), Magis (Doing the More), Cura Personalis (Care of the Person) and more will soon take on incredible and personal meaning.

Pedro Arrupe, the former Superior General of the Jesuits spoke about the practicality of finding God, or, that is to say, of falling in love. He said, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.” And so I ask you, what will capture your heart, your mind, and your time at Gonzaga?

Make Gonzaga not only the place that you go to, but also the place you come from into a world of great need. Through volunteer work, mentorship and intercultural programs, and immersion trips, Gonzaga offers you a unique chance to live out what you learn in the classroom. But will you accept this opportunity? Or hide out in your dorm room?

Once a month, I accompany LMU students to Tijuana through a weekend immersion trip called De Colores. We do many things in a short period of time, but often one of the most impactful experiences takes place at Casa Del Migrante, a home run by the Scalabrini’s for men who have just been deported from the United States. On a recent trip, I came across a number of my students, sitting with a man outside the dining room, his eyes awash in tears. “My boy, my baby boy” he whispered, his voice cracking. “I can’t be there for my son, and it is killing me.” His tears spread to the eyes of almost every student in the room.

Later that night, one of the students who, hours earlier had confessed he almost stayed home that weekend because he was tired, reflected on how frustrating it is that in a world where we have so many men who don’t want to be there for their kids, here was one who wanted to, and couldn’t. He said the experience changed the way he looked not only at immigration reform, but also about what his role could be in responding to injustice. Next year, he’ll be leading these De Colores trips to Tijuana.

I hope you have fun at Gonzaga. But more than anything, I hope you find that God is everywhere, including in you. When I traveled through Bali, I was struck by a common but most holy greeting: Namaste. People would look me in the eye, bow, and with their hands pressed together say Namaste. I have read several interpretations of the meaning, from “I bow to your true self” to what I enjoy most “The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.”

I said earlier that my high school statistics teacher not only changed my college search when he told about the Jesuits, he changed my life. It was my Jesuit education that exposed me to the world, and sent me beyond the borders of my own comfort. It was at LMU that I learned the most valuable lesson of my life: When we believe in the goodness of humanity, we find it everywhere we look. This education is the foundation from which I have built my life; everything from my career to my friends to my wife I have found because of the way this education influenced me. Gonzaga is a fun place. It’s a holy place. And it’s my hope that not only will it be the place you go to for the next four years, but that it will be the place you feel sent from to ignite the world with your own passion, energy, and conviction that the divine exists in you, and it exists in every person you will encounter. That’s what A.M.D.G. is all about. Namaste.”

 

Patrick Furlong is an Honorary Zag, who currently serves as the Minister for Faith and Justice at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. He leads De Colores mission trips each month and is actively involved in the crosspath of social justice, service, and spirituality. Follow him on Twitter at @pjfurlong. 

 

IGNITE Question: As Patrick wrote, will you accept Gonzaga’s opportunities to live out what you learn? Or hide out in your dorm room? Did Patrick’s letter speak to you? How do you identify with our Jesuit values?

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