Friday, April 24, 2009
A Jesuit Law School: What's the Difference
Yesterday I participated in a program at Loyola Law School that aimed at dialogue over what it means for a law school to be Jesuit and Catholic. MOJ'er John Breen organized and moderated the event, which included myself, Vince Rougeau (Notre Dame) and Tom Kohler (Boston College). We each reflected on the broad topic of what it means to say that a law school is Catholic and shared how the Catholic tradition is reflected in our own work at the Catholic law schools with which we are affiliated. Tom started us off with a talk that addressed, among other things, the integral relationship between law and religion and between religion and higher education. Vince then talked about the influence of Catholic Social Thought on his teaching, ideas of service and scholarship.
I expressed my view there are two separate aspects to what is (or ought to be) distinctive about a Jesuit and Catholic law school as opposed to a secular one, the first having to do with formation and the second having to do with the transmission of the Catholic intellectual tradition.
With respect to the former, from a Jesuit or Ignatian perspective (which views God as present in all things and our task as determineing what is our role in God's plan of salvation for the world), I think law school needs to be viewed as a 3-year process of discernment of who our students will be in the world and how they will participate in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. That means that a Catholic and Jesuit law school is about more than simply producing fine lawyers. (Of course it has to also do that, but it can’t be doing just that.) The implication is that those of us involved in Catholic and Jesuit law schools need to continually ask ourselves: what are we doing to help students discern their place and their vocation? What are we doing to help them discover who they are and how they should live their lives. During my presentation, I talked a little about some of the things we do at the University of St. Thomas to do just that.
I then spent some time talking about the ways in which my scholarship in recent years has addressed the intersection of Catholic thought and the law. After the three presentations, we had some lively discussion (followed by a wonderful dinner and great conversation).
I hope this program was the beginning of continuing dialogue at Loyola on this important subject. As I said at the end of my talk, there are a lot of ways a Catholic and Jesuit law school and implement its tasks re formation aand transmission of the Catholic intellectual tradition. The Catholic and Jesuit identiy can mean a lot of things. But it can't mean nothing. There has to be some intentional effort to live out the religious mission of the school.