Institute Marks 10 Years of Probing Faith, Culture Links

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The Jesuit Institute, says Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts), helped make possible one of the most moving moments he has witnessed at Boston College.

It came during a 1993 conference he organized with institute support that explored ethical issues raised by Nazi medical practices during the Holocaust. At the conference, Eva Kor recounted her horrific experiences as one of Joseph Mengele's human guinea pigs until she broke down.

"It was a very powerful moment," Michalczyk said, "one which challenges you to confront in a very human and real way the issue on which you've been focusing - which was something I hoped would take place during the conference."

Michalczyk is one of many members of the University community whose professional and personal lives have been enhanced by the institute, which is marking the 10th anniversary of its first year of operation.

Though no formal celebrations have been planned for the occasion, University administrators say the range of activities the institute sponsors are the best kind of commemoration. They reflect the vigorous intellectual and spiritual pursuits envisioned when the institute was founded in 1988 with an initial gift from the Boston College Jesuit Community and a matching gift from the University.

The institute's director, Canisius Professor Michael Buckley, SJ, points to the variety of disciplines - music, theology, science, philosophy, law, business, nursing, politics, social work and fine arts among them - represented in the institute's programs as further indication of its interest in, and concern for, the integration of faith and all human culture.

"The purpose of the institute," he said, "is to foster the Jesuit, Catholic character of Boston College as a university. This means raising questions in which the academic and religious intersect. Boston College should be more of a university, more of a locus for the inquiries that characterize higher education, precisely because it is Catholic.

"On one day the institute will host a seminar on the conduct of science in a Catholic university or on prison reform, for example, and the next will sponsor discussions about the preferential option for the poor and the alienation of intellectuals from religion within American culture. Faith emerges in all human concerns if you allow the processes of questioning to continue far enough. The institute exists to foster this kind of questioning."

Along with conferences and numerous interdisciplinary seminars involving over 150 faculty members a year, the institute funds two annual research fellowships, public debates on controversial issues - including a panel discussion last week on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae document - lectures by visiting scholars, academic retreats for University departments, scholarly film documentaries, monthly luncheon colloquia and discussions, a collaborative seminar for graduate students, and other special projects.

"The Jesuit Institute is a tremendous resource," said Vice President for Mission and Ministry Joseph Appleyard, SJ. "The conversations taking place under its auspices touch upon issues that concern many of us: AIDS, the condition of women in society, aging, science and religion, poverty, to name a few. The institute succeeds in ensuring that religious questions are part of those discussions, that there is a Jesuit and Catholic dimension to them."

"There's really no model, no precedent for this," said Prof. Robert Daly, SJ (Theology), who served as the institute's inaugural director from 1988-92. "It says a lot about Boston College, in that the Jesuits here combined to make a remarkable attempt to find out what we can be. That is the institute's most important job: to help faculty and staff shape the idea of what it means to be a Jesuit and Catholic university."

As the institute's offerings have grown, so has its endowment. Thomas Murphy gave a $1 million gift to further the work of the institute in 1992, and in 1996 an anonymous benefactor established the Canisius Chair at the institute and provided a substantial advance in its endowment.

One of the institute's major projects is a planned October conference on campus, "The Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education," one of three such regional conferences to be held in the US this year. These gatherings will evaluate how Jesuit higher education has been influenced by the decision of the 32nd General Congregation in 1975 to affirm the promotion of justice as one of the integrating dimensions of all Jesuit enterprises. In the fall of 2000, the regional events will culminate in a national conference at the University of Santa Clara.

"The conference will address issues that speak to the heart of Boston College and to Jesuit education in general," explained Fr. Buckley. "How effectively have Jesuit universities and colleges integrated into their undergraduate, professional, and graduate education an educated and disciplined concern for justice? Can we develop a better theoretical understanding of what the commitment to justice in Jesuit higher education should be? What steps should be taken to further that commitment?

"Throughout the very brief history of the institute," he continued, "it has always asked: 'What more should we be doing?' Each year, we address that issue a bit further. But the institute is just beginning. There is much more to do. These years are only the first moments of a long history."

Return to March 18 menu

Return to Chronicle home page