Friday, February 06, 2009

Jesuit Heritage Week at Georgetown

The news arrived too late for me to participate in the various events on offer, but it's still noteworthy that students and faculty at my alma mater, Georgetown University, are celebrating Jesuit Heritage Week through Sunday evening. (The celebration began on Monday, February 2.)

A brief history lesson: Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States, founded in 1789 (the same year that the U.S. Constitution was ratified and George Washington became the first president). The founder was Archbishop John Carroll (see photo, left), himself a former Jesuit, and the University has been operated by members of the Society of Jesus since the end of the Jesuit Suppression in 1805. It received the first federal university charter from the U.S. Congress in 1815. Given the historical nature of the recent U.S. presidential election, it is noteworthy that Georgetown was led by an African-American president, the Reverend Patrick Healy, S.J., from 1873 through 1882. The most prominent structure on Georgetown's campus, Healy Hall with its Flemish Romanesque towers, is named for him.

Jesuit Heritage Week has become a tradition over the past eight years:

Stephen Feiler (C’02) helped organize the first Heritage Week in 2001. He had overheard some students trying to downplay Georgetown’s Jesuit roots and wanted to change the perception that being Catholic was somehow a negative. He says the idea for Heritage Week stemmed from a similar event at the Catholic high school he attended in New York. “We had an Ignatian Awareness Day at my high school,” he says. He hoped to create something similar in order to “foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the university’s distinctive religious character.”

Eight years later, that mission continues. Feiler says the event has gotten better each year because of the creativity of the student leaders. “Each group has put their own twist on the week, to keep it relevant and fresh,” he says. “I certainly never imagined I’d see ‘Spike a Jesuit!’” he adds, referring to the now-annual volleyball match between Jesuits and students.

Boroughs says that the match is an example of how the events of Jesuit Heritage Week are not only reflective and stimulating, but also fun. “It should be noted,” he points out, “that for the past six years the Jesuits have beaten the student team.”

Gregory, searching for an answer to the string of victories by the Jesuits, does not credit divine intervention. “They all play together all the time,” he says. “They know their group dynamic. The students just show up and get schooled.”
The events of Jesuit Heritage Week are an eclectic mix, to say the least.

In addition to the student-Jesuit volleyball match, mentioned above, there are two Protestant worship services with Jesuit preachers scheduled for this coming Sunday (as well as a Mass to mark the end of the week); a lecture entitled "Avoiding Religion or Confessing It: Research and Study in a Post-Secular Academy"; several sessions on Jesuit spirituality; a tour of the Georgetown campus with an emphasis on finding Jesuit iconography; a Jesuit Shabbat this evening cosponsored by the Jewish Student Association; a discussion on the "Jesuit Commitment to Interreligious Dialogue"; and "Theology on Tap!," with (naturally) drinks as well as conversation.

There are some Jesuit-oriented items available at my Cafe Press store under the heading "Saints & Sinners."

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