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Free Speech on a Catholic Campus

The loose cannons of Christendom

Photo: Ana Benaroya, License: N/A

Ana Benaroya


Perhaps the most overlooked issue on any college campus is the student’s right to free speech. In the 1960s, the heyday of student activism, college kids across the country were arrested and harassed for feeding the heated political climate of the day, often while stepping on the toes of a school’s entrenched administration. Such acts of defiance are not as prevalent these days, especially not at private schools whose students generally don’t have any big anti-establishment axes to grind.

This appears to be the case at Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore’s largest Catholic school. But while the school’s moderate- to conservative-minded students might feel at home at a Catholic college, there’s a group on campus that will pull the ideological rug out from under their feet: the Society of Jesus, aka the Jesuits, the order that founded the school in 1852. An up-and-coming (only 472 years old!) order of priests, the Jesuits have earned a reputation as the loose cannons of Christendom. In fact, Loyola’s avowed atheists and lapsed Catholics might find more in common with the school’s ordained educators than with their roommates. For freethinkers and vocal radicals looking to survive at a Catholic university, here are a few things it might be useful to pick up from the Jesuits:

Cura personalis

A Latin phrase meaning “care for the whole person,” cura personalis is to Loyola what “one day at a time” is to Alcoholics Anonymous: Everyone says it without thinking much about it. If you can get beyond its cultish incantation, you might find that, at a school where a third of the student body plans on entering the business world, cura personalis is the liberal arts major’s best friend. Rooted in Renaissance humanism, the principle encourages—nay, requires—students to sample everything academia has to offer. There’s something weirdly gratifying in knowing that the finance major has to grapple with Kant’s categorical imperative before hitting Wall Street.

Liberation theology

The kinds of role models that Loyola presents to students aren’t always what you’d expect. For example, every year the university honors a group of South American Jesuit scholars who were assassinated by members of El Salvador’s military. Audacious freethinkers, the priests were martyred for speaking out against the oppressive regime that was supported, maybe unsurprisingly, by the United States government. South America’s Jesuits, including the internationally revered Oscar Romero, have long been associated with liberation theology, a school of Christian thought that borders on Marxism. Although the recently elected Pope Francis (a Jesuit) has tiptoed around the issue, don’t be surprised if your professor has a few unkind words about the Starbucks on campus.

Social justice

Although the Catholic Church is typically seen as a curmudgeonly defender of the traditional order, the Jesuits tirelessly assert the individual’s right to completely overturn that. Case in point, Loyola’s Center for Community Service and Justice encourages to students to challenge “unjust social, economic, and political structures.” Community service participants venture into the neighborhoods of Baltimore that the administration told you to stay away from. But you’re not going to change anything by staying on campus.

 

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