CONVOCATION ADDRESS, 1976
Let me then in this first discourse with you, end up where I really want to stand. Dylan Thomas said in the preface to his collected works that he wrote poems “for the love of man and in praise of God” and that he’d be a damn fool if he didn’t. The liberal arts describe and cherish both the love and the praise. All I can add is that if we who profess the same liberal arts ever forget them, if we ever surrender our pride in them, our care for them, and forget the desperate importance they bear for our own lives and the lives of this nation, even incidentally if we ever forget that the love of man is also the deepest praise of God, then a lot of us are indeed damn fools.
“WINDHOVERS AND BASKETBALL PLAYERS”, THE WASHINGTON POST, 1982
Watching anyone do anything well is a great human good. This is true whether it be a work of art, a scientific breakthrough, or even a well executed play. We all stand in awe at “the achieving of, the mastery of the thing!”...too frequently we ignore the quiet beauty of another kind of mastery, marriages that work, and children who grow straight. But sports make one place where we can understand real skill, and when we add basketball’s grace and speed, the impact is double....Five young men on a court weave their magic dance, responding to the other five, we discover with a jolt of recognition “the dearest freshness of deep down things.”
“BELIEF AND TEACHINGS”, DAEDALUS, 1981
In a contemplative curriculum a major concentration on any one field of study establishes a measuring rod deeply embedded within a student’s consciousness, by which he can forever after distinguish between knowledge and ignorance because he has a direct experience of how developing knowledge feels. Its design bears very little relation to careers, to the grim business of earning a living. It is intended to foster discrimination, to reduce arrogance, and to curb the threat of energetic folly.
ANNUAL REPORT, 1989
All of us would be greater fools than those who came before us if we did not know the next hundred years will be as shaken by our failures, as hurt by our weaknesses, as cramped by our fearfulness as have the last two hundred. History will leave us staggered and sad at missed opportunities, at risks and roads not taken.
But celebration is no excuse to patronize the past. To each of us is spoken the warning, “thou knowest this man’s fall; thou knowest not his wrastling.” Our own falls have yet to reach the tolerant gaze of chroniclers. Humbled by that knowledge, but with prideful hope in those who come after us, we bid welcome to the years from 1989 to 2089. On this hill, by this river, amid this city, may Georgetown’s heart’s truth still be sung in a century’s turning.
BACCALAUREATE MASS, 1989
You will come back, often I hope, over the next six decades. You’ll wander around, look for landmarks, find new buildings where you left old ones, marvel at how the campus changes....But there is one part of Georgetown that will not have changed, one gathering of its people that will welcome you as fully, as richly as you were welcomed this morning. Each Mass will find you here and will tell you again “that the end of all our exploring is to arrive where you started, and know the place for the first time.”
Long after those of us who taught you are gathered into dust, and quite independently of the rise and fall of bricks and mortar, this Mass is the promise that in every Mass you will always be here.
“IN DEFENSE OF DISORDER”, 1983
If America’s colleges are to be roundly condemned because they feel the best way to handle disruption is to educate disrupters, then something of value to all of us will be lost. Our faculties have at least one large body of allies: the parents of our students. Parents know how hard it is for the young to grow without error, indeed how impossible.
They understand why colleges react so often with ambiguous patience. We who teach distrust force because we take the parentage of mind seriously, because like parents we still at heart love our own.
“THE GOOD EFFECTS OF FREEDOM” IN THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY, 1991
To talk as University teaching as an act of love deepens our appreciation both of that teaching and indeed of the community towards which we must work in any college or university. We did not become teachers to be merely the mouthpieces of a discipline, of history or English, of medicine or law. Rather we chose to teach in order to become a person, and we chose the community of the university as the setting in which that self-realization would take place. In this way our teaching takes responsibility for ourselves, and reaches out to students to help them to take an equal responsibility so that they may become fully and freely themselves.
B’NAI B’RITH DINNER ADDRESS, 1984
The 119th Psalm identifies the study of God’s law as an eternal heritage and the joy of our hearts. It simply presupposes that all learning is worship; “let me observe your law unfailingly forever and ever, so, having sought your precepts, I shall walk in freedom.” The burden of this great song puts all knowledge, even that of a university, in a different light. It deepens it, tying it not only to the law of God, but to that law as the spelling out of the covenant between the Lord God and His people. It draws our human knowledge into divine reality, and finds both intelligible only within a community tied by covenant to God.
“THY FIRMNESS MAKES MY CIRCLE JUST”: PROFESSIONAL SCHOOLS IN THE UNIVERSITY
While Universities are great at collecting gross results, averages and other statistical information, in our heart of hearts they don’t matter to us. What does matter is the individual contact, the teacher in the classroom, the head-on-head between student and faculty member, the arc across which our learning bangs into the energy of the young. That interchange is more important for us than all the statistics, rules and regulations issued by the Office of the Dean or Provost, all the fulminations of the President and the Board of Trustees or of anyone else on the good ground on which we serve. Only individuals grow, and that growth, in mind and in heart, is the faculty’s preoccupation.