Look closely at the university seal the next time you tip-toe around the mosaic as you go into Healy Hall. You might be surprised how much of Georgetown – past, present and future – is embodied in the symbol.

 

You will notice in the left hand of the eagle that there is an orb, a symbol of the ordered universe; in the right hand, the cross, a symbol of Christian revelation. The phrase that sits at the top of the seal reads, Utraque Unum, or “Both into One.” Georgetown, as a Catholic university, was founded on the ideal of unifying the order of the universe and Christianity; the university pursues knowledge to achieve a greater under-standing of the universe and theology.

 

 

 

A Catholic university seems like a contradiction today, especially as we take stock of our increasingly secularized society and a competing concept of “Both into One.” The latter seems arcane, even medieval, to the modern-day student. If anything, the two words, “Catholic” and “university,” have seemingly drifted apart and appear more like “Each as Two.” Like many “student-centered research institutions,” Georgetown competes in a dominantly secular society, focused on producing empirical knowledge. But the Catholic worldview is informed by the age-old idea of Truth divinely revealed in the scriptures. The contrast in approach makes us wonder: Can Georgetown retain its Catholic identity while competing as a top-tier university? The question has troubled us for decades.

 

 

 

Any discussion of the university’s Catholic identity must take note of Georgetown’s unique positioning as a Jesuit institution. Oft perceived as the intellectual rebel within the Church, the Society of Jesus has been an order unafraid to challenge official doctrine. Shortly after its founding in 1534, the early Jesuits launched a campaign to fight the corruption that plagued the Church hierarchy. Today, many Jesuits still question the Vatican’s position on a range of issues, including birth control, homosexuality, priest celibacy, female priests and opposition to abortion.

 

 

 

To say that Jesuit priests challenge the Vatican is not to say that they fly in the face of its authority. In fact, Jesuits take a vow of obedience to the pope upon ordination. Nor do Jesuits fail to embrace Catholic doctrine. Their core principles – namely cura personalis and the emphasis on social justice – are rooted in the Catholic concept of love for one’s neighbor.

 

 

 

Even if it seems at odds with tradition, the modern university serves an important role in Catholicism. Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of the University of Notre Dame, boiled it down: “The Catholic university is the place where the Church does its thinking,” he said on Catholic academia’s role in promoting Church progress. It is only through continual questioning that the Church will, over time, evolve and move closer to the spiritual truth it pur-sues. Those who argue that Georgetown is straying from its Catholic identity by questioning certain elements of the Church’s status quo ought to remember that is the proper role for a Catholic institution of higher learning.

 

 

 

Understanding Georgetown’s founding and history helps to address the question of whether a Catholic identity and a first-class education are in-compatible. The seminal 1967 “Land

 

O’Lakes Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University” – signed by members of the Georgetown faculty as well as those from other Catholic institutions – asserted the need for the university’s autonomy and academic freedom “in the face of authority of whatever kind.” It affirms the need for interdisciplinary dialogue – an environment in which theology is not imperialistic, but confronts and develops all other areas of study.

 

 

 

If universities pursue this interdisciplinary dialogue – and we believe Georgetown does – competitive education and Catholicism need not be mutually exclusive.

 

Instead, the freedom a religiously affiliated university provides its students is the ability to talk and view the standard academic subjects from another worth-while standpoint. Sit through a class at a secular, state school and you’ll notice the difference. While the religious perspective does not direct every discussion, it adds something unique to the dialogue at Georgetown.

 

 

 

In addition to academic exploration, part of the nature of a Catholic university, according to Fr. Erich Przywara, S.J., is to be the place “where the Church meets the world and the world meets the Church.” Some of the biggest questions of our day, both for the Catholic Church and for society more broadly, deal with the relationships among and within religions.

 

 

 

Georgetown can tackle those questions because of its Jesuit-inspired commitment to interfaith dialogue. Students may sometimes lose sight of the fact that Georgetown is home to the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, a Program for Jewish Civilization, as well as the largest campus ministry program in the country.

 

 

 

The university draws on these re-sources to welcome religious leaders of many faith backgrounds to contribute to the campus discussion, but it’s unlikely these centers and programs would have been created were Georgetown a secular university.

 

 

 

Principles of interfaith understanding are complemented by the university’s emphasis on cura personalis through social justice. This is evidenced by the high number of student groups – including DC READS, HOPE and Best Buddies – dedicated to leaving an im-pact on the surrounding community. Once they set off for the world beyond Healy Gates, many students stick with the tradition, through heavy involvement in organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach For America.

 

Even if our Jesuit identity does a great deal of good, we should never lose sight of the marginalized in our community. With slightly less than half the student population identifying as Catholic, some students feel restricted by Georgetown’s roots. Just last year, a group of students vocally protested the lack of birth control resources on campus, among other concerns – the tension between a Catholic grounding and a non-Catholic society is not dissipating anytime soon.

 

 

 

This struggle, however, should not draw Georgetown away from its Catholic heritage, which allows a blend of perspectives that is inherently good. It is possible for Georgetown to provide the highest quality education as a leading university while retaining its Catholic identity. The two ideas are linked – both into one. Now and for the future, the motto rings true.”

 

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