Before coming to Georgetown, I spent 26 years teaching at secular institutions, first as a graduate assistant and instructor at New York University, then in a tenured position at the University of Toronto. During those years it felt strange to be teaching in an environment so different from the one in which I had been educated, especially the eight years of Jesuit education I had enjoyed in high school and college. Although I enjoyed my students and colleagues in New York City and Toronto, I sometimes felt uncomfortable in those secular classrooms, and uneasy in an academic environment that dismissed questions of faith-based intellectual inquiry. When I taught Dante, for example, students (and colleagues) expected me to treat his theology as something foreign, not only to them, but also to me. I found myself apologizing when I spoke too zealously about being open to the “truth” of Dante’s text. While most of my students in Toronto came from Italian immigrant families who were generally active and practicing Catholics, the students still felt extremely shy about expressing their beliefs in class. Although they almost never said so openly, I concluded that many of them felt it was a sign of maturity if they could “get beyond” questions of faith that the secular world considered “childish,” and “divorced from reality.” In our classroom interactions, we were experiencing firsthand what Stephen Carter has famously titled the “Culture of Disbelief.”

Teaching at Georgetown these past three-and-a-half years has been a revelation for me. I have rediscovered the joy of freely sharing with others in the classroom my own passionate commitment to my faith tradition. Now when I teach the texts of Dante, Boccaccio and the Italian women mystics, I feel privileged to engage in discussions of how the authentic sincerity of these authors’ experience of their faith really matters. This discussion can be both informative and formative to all concerned, touching each of us personally in mind, body and spirit.

When my wife and I were considering the move to Georgetown, one of the first things we did was to sit down with the bulletin and try to figure out how many Jesuits were actively teaching here. We were trying to gauge just how “Jesuit,” and, therefore, different from Toronto, we could expect Georgetown to be. We soon found, however, a simple headcount did not tell us much. With three-and-a-half years of Georgetown experience, I now understand that the Jesuit and Catholic identity of Georgetown is not measured by the number of Jesuits active on campus. Although that activity is core, the whole is greater. Though not everyone on campus is Catholic or even religious, there is a culture of respect for the values Jesuits hold and teach that touches every aspect of campus life. From the Jesuits living in the student residences to the faculty of the Catholic Studies Program holding their monthly colloquium, from the faculty and students engaged in service learning to the many masses offered daily in the various chapels around campus, from the FRIENDS Initiative of planning social events that are safe and rewarding to the vast majority of us who teach and study some aspect of morality and love for others in our classroom, Georgetown expresses its many modes of being both Catholic and Jesuit. These identities are as much a part of the culture of Georgetown University as is the predominately lay character of faculty, staff and students.

Jesuit Heritage Week is a wonderful way to celebrate this culture which we live and love. Each event has been planned by students, staff and faculty, who are committed to fostering a shared vision of ourselves as a caring academic community. Since I was involved in planning Thursday night’s film event, let me say a word about it in particular. One good way to communicate with each other about the culture of our community is to share how we respond to the broader culture in which we live. The Royden B. Davis, S.J. Catholic Studies Film Series provides the forum for faculty and staff to engage with students in a conversation about films that have affected them at a deep personal level. The films are planned for Thursday evenings (7-10 p.m.) throughout the semester, and open to all students who are looking for good entertainment, lively discussion and fresh pizza. This Thursday’s film is a documentary about the Jesuit activists, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, whose lives are examples of how those committed to the Jesuit values of peace and justice have touched and transformed the broader American culture, showing we are not only a people of disbelief, but also a people of belief.

Dennis J. McAuliffe is a professor in the department of Italian and Co-director of the Catholic Studies Program.

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