Parents, we are so grateful to you for partnering with us in raising young people who are men and women for and with others. The following is an update of a letter I sent to students and faculty on Sunday evening. I thought you should see it, and hope you will discuss it with your students.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016: I am in Washington DC with 60 principals of Jesuit middle and high schools from around the country. We have spent the past two days talking about race, privilege, and equity in our schools, as well as academic and spiritual ways of advancing our missions as Catholic, college-prep schools.
Our discussions about race have been particularly challenging—as they always are. But just as students need to keep growing, all of us need to be open to continual growth as citizens—especially those of us who are parents and educators, especially now, as our nation grapples directly with issues of race and equity.
This past weekend, I was privileged to be with 35 Jesuit High students and six faculty members, as well as 1600+ students from Jesuit schools and universities, at the Ignatian Teach-in for Justice.
While we journeyed to our nation’s capitol, the streets of our cities filled with protesters, including anarchists who smashed windows and committed acts of mayhem in Portland. My inbox has been peppered with impassioned pleas and prayers from students. Some students feel suddenly at risk because of who they are; some are worried that they cannot openly share their political views or satisfaction with the outcome of the Presidential election without being labeled racist, misogynist, or worse.
Our nation is in a moment of ferment. But after a remarkable few days in Washington DC, my heart has settled on hope. Once again, I have the students of Jesuit High School to thank.
The men of NME have returned to school, flooding our hallways with the light of Jesus Christ and the love of the Holy Spirit. As these men prayed and grew and were transformed at St. Benedict’s Lodge, our students in DC were likewise growing in a very positive direction. While some celebrated and others mourned the results of last Tuesday’s election, the Teach-in delegates engaged in the democratic process.
As members of the Ignatian family, they decided to really follow what Jesus Christ and St. Ignatius demand of us. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors, and to love those who are “other”—whether that means those on the margins of our society, or those who have a fundamentally different worldview than ourselves.
As you have heard me say before, one of St. Ignatius’s greatest gifts to us is the Presupposition of Good Intentions, which he offers as a prerequisite to his Spiritual Exercises. Like Jesus’s commandment to love our enemies, the Presupposition is contrary to human nature. It requires that we listen to one another. Like Jesus, Ignatius urges us to presume that those with whom we vehemently disagree have good intentions, that they want the world to be a better place, that they are not uncaring or deeply flawed.
It is in days like those we have experienced the past week that our commitment to our Christian, Ignatian ideals is truly tested. How will we do on this test, Jesuit? Do we really mean what we profess?
After spending the weekend with our students at the Teach-in, I am filled with hope. JHS students, just like our nation’s citizens, are diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic and geographic backgrounds—and political beliefs. That diversity brings incredible richness to our school and our nation. If we can really listen to each other, we have so much to learn.
After talking about race and the love of Christ with my fellow principals, my hope is inflected with the reality that our diversity can lead even some of the wonderful young people in our schools to make hurtful or demeaning comments to one another. There have been racist incidents at schools across the US, and Jesuit schools have not been immune.
On Monday, November 14, however, those 35 JHS students joined the Ignatian family not by whispering slurs or hurling insults across social media platforms. Instead, they headed to the halls of Congress to discuss immigration reform, environmental policy, and the criminal justice system. At a time of national division, they exhibited the best of America, engaging in spirited democratic dialogue. They did us all proud.
As, I trust, will the students of Jesuit High School as the next few weeks and months unfold. Our students know that while we may vigorously disagree, there is no place in our school—not in classrooms, in our hallways, locker rooms, online, or anywhere, for speech that demeans or insults other people. Period.
Each of our students is sacred and loved by God, by their parents, and by their teachers. We will not allow their dignity as human beings to be challenged.
We will of course encourage our students to speak their truths and test their emerging political, social, economic, and spiritual beliefs in the marketplace of ideas at our school, but always in a civil and safe environment. Let us make our school a lamp upon a hill, for our city and nation and world to see.
As Portland and the USA set about trying to heal and unite, let us make the choice not just to mouth but to live out our theme for this year: “I have a part in God’s great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”
Do not allow our links to break, or even to crack. Be the bond of connection between persons, including—especially—persons with whom you may disagree. Reach out. Connect. As Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, and Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ enjoin us, let us be a frontier people, who go to the margins and leave no daylight between us—only kinship.
Peace be with you.
Paul J. Hogan
November 16, 2016