Lessons from Jesuit High Schools

Over at dotCommonweal, Scott D. Moringiello, professor at Villanova, writes movingly about his appreciation for his alma mater, Regis High School in New York City. Much of what Moringiello says reminds me of my Jesuit high school, Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, AZ. They are almost as old as each other (Brophy was founded in 1928; Regis in 1914) and both deliver a classically Jesuit -- and therefore outstanding -- education. I could say about Brophy what Moringiello says about Regis:

Certainly our teachers at Regis expected a lot from us. But that expectation went far beyond "learning the material." (We certainly never were taught things because some standardized test awaited us.) Whatever we learned -- from the ablative (or genitive!) absolute to the Krebs cycle, from equilibrium prices to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, from the Hapsburgs and the Roosevelts to quadratic equations -- we learned so that we could become, in the words of Jesuit Superior Pedro Arrupe, "men for others." We were to become men for those less fortunate than ourselves and also men for each other.

That's exactly how I felt (and feel) about Brophy. My four years there called me to care about the world. Two trips to Oaxaca, Mexico (one after sophomore year, the other after senior year) provided my first look at life's essential unfairness. At 16 years old, I and another student took a bus to the base of a mountain and then hiked up a hill to help out a family who had no running water, and whose son had caught a brain infection shortly after birth because the family lacked medication that, in the U.S., we could buy at a local pharmacy. Then we caught a bus back into town, and then moved on to another site. 

I remember this today, sixteen years later, as if it were this morning. I remember the way it shattered my simple, comfortable notions. I remember returning home to Phoenix haunted by those scenes -- and yet more curious than ever. More motivated than ever. I wanted, in my own teenage way, to uncover what happened. Who was to blame? Was anyone? Suddenly, politics mattered; history mattered. My own opinions -- on economic justice, on international relations -- mattered. I could neglect no more.

Truly, I had been educated -- led out of myself, out of the orbit of my own preoccupations, out of an artificial security, out of unreality. Poverty and injustice became existential challenges, something that I had to respond to not incidentally, not in the manner of pro bono work, but in the very core of my being. Somehow, I began to sense, my life would fall short if I didn't recognize a restorative, renewing aspect to my vocation, whatever that vocation turned out to be. When I graduated from Brophy, I was by no means perfect, but I did feel a personal stake in the world's injustice.  

Though, like most Jesuit schools, Brophy has a reptuation for academic and athletic excellence, what I most remember is how much my teachers -- both lay and Jesuit -- cared for us. I always felt, from the first day on campus, that my teachers wanted my peers and me to flourish. They were interested not only in what we would do, but in who we would become. They encouraged us to make good choices and integrate God into our daily lives. To borrow from Moringiello, they "taught us that love requires our intellects and that being a thoughtless Christian is a contradiction in terms." My teachers were mentors and role models and now, I am honored to say, friends.  

 

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