Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Intersection of Graduation Day and Memorial Day


Thanks to Tom for this post regarding the wonderful Tom Mengler and his thoughtful reflections on why a Catholic law school should be Catholic. I would like to offer an example of what I think Dean, now President, Mengler referenced.

Earlier this week I was present at our law school graduation mass. It was especially lovely due to bountiful student participation. An acutely poignant moment for me was during the prayers of the faithful, which were read by many individual students. The prayer for members of our military, particularly those who had been killed or injured and their families, was read by a student, Mary, whom I knew to be a veteran. She was also the President of our Catholic Lawyers Guild. As she read those words, I was moved, as I knew that she intensely understood their profound meaning. With less than one percent of Americans in active duty military service, Mary had been asked to serve her country at great sacrifice and risk. She had resisted the social messaging given to her generation (not to mention women of her generation) as well as the easier path of self-enrichment selected by most of her peers, and answered the call of her country. No doubt as she read that prayer, she was keenly aware of the effects of war and its casualties.

That, however, was not the most interesting part of this observation. I had had the pleasure of meeting her mother, also named Mary, before mass. Like many of the graduates' parents, she was beaming with pride. The three of us began talking and I had remembered that the Mary's brother had come to visit our law school class shortly before himself deploying to Afghanistan. I also learned another brother was a fireman. I inquired from the mother if theirs was a military family and was surprised to learn it was not. What inspired her children to follow such paths of service and heroism? "Oh, that was September 11th," she modestly stated.

It was not just September 11th. As I talked more to this family and their particularly humble mother, it was clear to me it was so much more. It seemed to me that through her faith, this mother had instilled values of service, sacrifice, and responsibility in her children. So, when an event like September 11th occurred, they were ready to respond in a way few others do…with their lives if necessary.

This is perhaps an example of what Dean Mengler meant when he said that a Catholic law school should help students "continue on their journeys by searching actively for the truth in their lives." These are the students who come to us. Whether, as I suspect in Mary's case, they come from a Catholic tradition which values service, or from some other community, so many students come to law school searching for that truth in their lives, and understanding that it is found often in serving others. I might suggest that it is one role of a Catholic law school: to continue the work of the students and their mothers and fathers, families, and all those who helped instill in those students such values. The Catholic law school is different because its mission does not end with solely providing intellectual and academic excellence - necessary components of a legal education. Beyond that, it should also be a place that nurtures these students, reinforces and strengthens their resolve to serve, and awakens such a resolve in others. As in Mary's case, they often come to us from fertile ground. We take on an almost sacred responsibility to cultivate that ground, make it more potent, and support it, such that it will bloom even more brilliantly than when it came.

Our conversation ended with Mary's mother saying she "was so excited to see what Mary will do next. I know it is going to be great." I was honored to have met them, honored to have been present for the prayer, and honored that Mary and students like her choose to attend our law school. Catholic law schools, I might suggest, serve an important role of nurturing and promoting the whole student to achieve all the great-- and selfless-- things Mary's mother envisions.


Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

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