Santa Clara University

Office of the President

JST Convocation

Academic Convocation
Jesuit School of Theology
Gesu Chapel
22 September 2009

Thank you for your introduction, Kevin, and for all your work in leadership, particularly in this past year.  We owe you so much for your diligence and care.  Since my arrival at Santa Clara, I have received many gracious welcomes, such as yours, and I appreciate your remarks.

I would like to add my greetings to those extended to our guests: 

To Bishop Cordeleone, recently installed bishop of this diocese; to the representatives of our fellow schools in the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), and the administration of the GTU; and to members of the dedicated and generous JST Board of Directors, particularly to Bishop John Cummins, who ordained me to the diaconate a number of years ago.  Thank you for joining us as we commence the new academic year.

I also want to thank the faculty, students, administrators, and staff of JST for your warm welcome.  Several of you I remember well from my student days here on the “Holy Hill.”  Others are friends yet to be met.  I appreciate your presence and your support.

Today we also recall JST’s 75 years of growth.  We have much to celebrate.  Today provides an opportunity to recall this history and to remember those whose labor, service, and generosity have built this institution.  I say we, not only as president of Santa Clara, but as an alumnus of JST, one whose priesthood was formed and enriched here.

I come with deep gratitude for the theological formation I received in my years of training for ministry.  Dedicated faculty had a profound impact on my life and my priesthood.  Some of them include Dick Hill, who showed us the pastoral approach to canon law; Mary Anne Donovan who challenged us to bring patristics into our preaching; Michael Buckley and Jack Boyle in the Spiritual Exercises.  My advisor, Father Dan O’Hanlon, S.J., urged me every term to take at least one course outside JST.  He pushed me into the realm of ecumenism, so that I studied under wonderful professors, including, among others, Samuel Garrett at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Bob Gaser at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and Eldon Ernst at American Baptist Seminary of the West.  And in a true exercise of ecumenism, I also enrolled in classes at the Franciscan School of Theology.  Study at the GTU opened my mind to the riches and depth of other ecclesial traditions.

I owe an immense intellectual debt to Eldon Ernst, then at the American Baptist Seminary of the West.  In his courses I formulated the approach to American religious history that I later developed in my dissertation, my first book, and in various articles.  Eldon challenged his students to examine the interactions among religious believers with other traditions.  While studying one’s own church, he showed us the benefit of investigating how the various churches interacted: how they disagreed theologically, how they began to cooperate, often out of necessity, on the American frontier, and how this interaction developed over time, usually sporadically and with hesitation.

Later, I enrolled in Eldon’s course on the Social Gospel.  We examined how Protestants and Catholics responded to the massive urban poverty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In a case study, I examined the work of one Catholic lay woman in Los Angeles, Mary Julia Workman.  She stood in that first generation of Catholics who read and implemented Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII.  A teacher in inner city public schools, she knew the children and their families struggling to make a living. Seeing the extent of poverty, she founded a settlement house, and, in dialogue with the residents, created programs and services.  She recruited and led 200 volunteers who joined her to welcome Mexican and Japanese immigrants who suffered bitter prejudice in the city.  These personal encounters led her to advocate for public policies and legislation to improve housing and working conditions, create child labor laws, guarantee food inspection, and protect those being exploited.

I cite this example of one woman to display the impact of Theology on the life of a leader.  Workman read widely, organized lectures by Catholic pioneers in social justice, and was famed for her knowledge of papal teachings on social justice.  She reflected on her inner-city experience in the light of her Catholic faith and with the aid of Catholic Theology.  This combination of work and reflection, praxis and analysis, keen intellect and compassionate heart, also led her to recognize others who shared her Catholic social values who were not of her faith.

This comparative approach to exploring religious history opened doors for me to meet and to learn from people and cultures different from my own.  This has led me to immersion programs in Latin America, exploring university contacts in China, and assisting at Dolores Mission parish East Los Angeles.  I am indebted to this professor, to the GTU, and to JST.  These experiences inform my presidency of the University, with JST as one of its schools, and remind me of the vast potential for theological education in this place.

Recalling these encounters here, I see that the study of Theology enables the university to become evermore fully what it is, a university.  Since the days of the medieval universities, these institutions have been the site where freedom of discourse allowed all issues to be considered.  The famous quaestiones disputatae or “disputed questions” provided a means and a forum for the examination of contentious matters, particularly in Theology.  Speakers presented differing points of view on an issue, and argued these matters for the purpose of shedding greater light on the topic in the quest for their truth.  

St. Thomas Aquinas modeled this wide-ranging examination.  In his mind, all human experience is open to theological investigation.  No subject of our human activity is beyond study and debate in the quest to understand issues in the light of God.  In this way, Theology relentlessly drives the university to search for ultimate values in human existence because Theology studies everything under the aspect of God. 

Theology also drives the university towards freedom.  In the Catholic institutions of higher education, we are liberated to discuss issues otherwise ruled out in secular universities.  As people struggle to address their concerns about life, death, and ultimate meaning, the Catholic university and faith-based institutions of higher learning treat these matters seriously.  The purely secular approach rules out of the academy the reality of God when considering issues that so often surface in drama, poetry, film, literature, and the fine arts.  Theology asserts that in the human quest for meaning in life, God too is a reality to study.  God adds a perspective from which to examine and interpret what we experience.

Theology, then, allows us to pursue our questions toward their ultimate ends.  We do not have to stop when we reach the transcendent; we enter as believers who recognize that the divine does indeed have meaning for us in our questioning.

In contemporary terms, Theology functions as the synthesizing center for the Catholic university’s life and mission, a Theology that is in dialogue with various fields and disciplines for its vitality.  “Theology” denotes the horizon for the university’s imagination.  The word “Theology” itself (theos + logos) brings to the fore and keeps there what is paramount for a Catholic university:  reason leading to a deeper appreciation for the mystery of God.  Even those who do not share the Catholic faith, or who may not approach God as Catholics do, contribute to this mission of the Catholic university because knowledge (scientia), understanding, and truth (veritas) are co-extensive.  We cannot have one without the other.  All knowledge is fragmentary; all understanding qualified; all our claims to truth contingent; and all are limited by the finitude of the human mind.  Nevertheless, all of these lead to wisdom (Sophia), which, as we recall, is one of the many names of God.

Wisdom is both speculative and practical, and Jesuit higher education is speculative and practical.  In Jesuit institutions, we value the pursuit of truth in the formation of a moral, ethical, and just person and a just society.  We educate so that persons and society are imbued with reverence for God through God’s traces in human beings and in the whole of creation in many parts.

As a discipline, Theology provides the synthetic center for the life of the Catholic university when it is engaged in a living and ongoing dialogue with all the fields and disciplines represented in the university.  Theology, after all, is inherently dialogical.  It is engaged in dialogue with the arts and humanities (including religious studies), social sciences, natural sciences, and even sports, in order to fulfill its synthetic function within the Catholic university.  

Finally, Theology in a Jesuit university is also informed by the Society of Jesus’ ongoing understanding of the mission entrusted to it by previous generations and by the Church itself.  In particular, there are four characteristics that help form the horizon against which Theology can fulfill its synthetic role in the Catholic university:

1.  Faith itself.  This horizon begins with Faith itself.  Faith here is not understood as “religion” in a phenomenological sense, but Faith is an act, an act in which there is a fundamental acknowledgment of the Absolute, a transcendent horizon that makes everything we are and do sheer gift.  In that recognition, the only adequate response is thanksgiving and return, through love in the form of service.

2.  The specific form of this response comes in our keen sense of God’s thirst for justice.  We see this in the Jewish covenant, particularly in the prophets, which Christianity inherits.  We recognize this in the ways justice is realized in human lives and in society.  Jesus of Nazareth called this realization of justice the “kingdom” or “reign” of God.  That image of God’s thirst for justice continues to inform our horizon today as a Catholic university.

3.  The synergy between faith and justice must take place within the contexts of human lives in their concreteness, in societies with their institutions and traditions, and through the flavors and colors of culture.  We require an understanding of how culture shapes who we are, through artistic, humanistic, economic and scientific means.  Such inter-disciplinary understanding is essential to the work of Theology.

4.  Today, especially, this interplay among faith, justice, and cultures must entail in an essential way a dialogue with and an understanding of other religious traditions, practices, and developments.  That Theology which has faith as its foundation does not excuse Theology, even in the Catholic university, from considering how diverse religions or ways of believing can learn from one another.  Theology studied in this way requires this mutual learning in order to fulfill the goals of Catholic and Jesuit education.

This Theology brings us to the event of joining JST to the body of the Catholic, Jesuit university that is Santa Clara.  What does this accomplish for Santa Clara?  What does this accomplish for JST?

For the main campus at Santa Clara, this means that the synthesizing role of Theology in the life of the University is re-energized and strengthened.  The addition of a graduate faculty of Theology augments the already formidable resources of the Religious Studies Department and the Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries.   By the integration of JST into the life of Santa Clara, the University now becomes that much more fully the Catholic, Jesuit University that it most certainly already is.

Furthermore, the addition of JST will enable the University to work even more fruitfully with the local and universal Church.  We shall be better able to assist the Church in the preparation of men and women from all over the world for ministry in the Church.  We shall also continue a strong tradition of theological scholarship at the service of the Church.  

For JST itself, this event marks the third phase of its life, and one that brings its promise even closer to fulfillment.  From the sylvan removal it once enjoyed in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the astonishing vitality of Berkeley and the “Holy Hill,” JST now re-connects with its roots in the Ignatian vision for the University that I referenced earlier.   It now starts the return of Theology to the University, not only as a professional school with an inspiring mission, but as a jewel in the crown of the University and its life.  JST now promises to be in regular interaction with all dimensions of a Jesuit university, sharing even more deeply in the wider mission of the Society of Jesus through joint academic programs and projects with other SCU faculty, staff and administrators.  And that interaction can only broaden, deepen, and enliven the mission of JST, so that it continues to attract and draw students: Jesuit, clergy, religious and lay.

So let me conclude.  Theologians must continue to engage in those disputed questions, as of old, so that we in this era can address contemporary moral and ethical dilemmas in light of the reality of God.  Our University and our Church require the animating presence of Theology and theologians.  For these reasons, I welcome the Jesuit School of Theology to augment the fine work of the Department of Religious Studies on the Santa Clara campus.  Together, this new school and this department energize the Catholic intellectual tradition that is Santa Clara’s proudest heritage.  We give thanks to God for this opportunity, and ask God’s blessing on this endeavor.  May God, indeed, bless us all.

Thank you very much.

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