“You and I Are To Become Global Citizens”

Father Gerry Blaszczak, S.J., Chaplain of Fairfield University, addressed the Class of 2014 on September 2, welcoming them to classes and challenging them with the task of becoming global citizens. Blaszczak, in his 43 years as a Jesuit, is a citizen of the world himself. He has taught seminarians in Africa, visited the poor and supported priests in South America, learned philosophy and theology in Germany, and been a pastor, University Vice-President, and Jesuit Superior in New York. A scripture scholar with a doctoral degree from Harvard University, he is known and admired by all for his personal and kenotic approach to ministry, as well as for his work in uniting Christians, Muslims, and Jewish persons. Here is his address at the Convocation:

Fairfield intentionally follows a path marked out for us by St. Ignatius Loyola and the early Jesuits more than 500 years ago. They shared the renaissance humanists’ conviction that there is an intrinsic link between education and the virtuous life, and that a life of learning and virtue leads both to personal flourishing and outfits a person for public service. Humanistic studies led, they believed, to “pietas,” “upright character,” which was needed if society were to be both prosperous and just.   In 2001, in a address at Santa Clara University, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, then Superior General of the Jesuits,  insisted that “the real measure of our Jesuit Universities lies in who our students become:  competent, reflective persons, capable of compassion and well educated for solidarity, ready to think on a global level and act on the local level.”  Through both the curriculum, and extra-curricular activities, “students should learn to perceive, think, judge, choose and act for the rights of the disadvantaged and oppressed.”

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Class of 2014, you should know from the start that yours is no ordinary university. And yours, surely, is no ordinary time.  More than ever your communities need you to return to them as visionaries and as leaders, outfitted with the skills required for equitable democracies, societies where prosperity is not limited to the elite, and where the legitimate rights of all persons are respected. Our global society needs you to fulfill your responsibilities as well-informed, empathetic, dynamic artisans of a global society of justice and well-being.  Robert F. Kennedy’s words in 1966 at Cape Town University speak to this, your moment: 

"This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease… Thus you, and your young compatriots everywhere, have had thrust upon you a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived."

This idea of active learning is not new; it goes back to Socrates and is as risky and as difficult today as it was in his time. And just as necessary. Plato linked lack of critical reflection and self-scrutiny with Athens’ disastrous military and political policy blunders.  The liberal arts, which are at the heart of a Fairfield education are meant precisely to liberate you from the tyranny of unexamined presupposition, from authoritarianism and obscurantism of any kind, and to open your imaginations to new possibilities for ourselves and for wider society.

But more than habits of rigorous analysis and critical inquiry are needed if you and I are to become global citizens. We need something that stretches our imaginations, opens us deeply to the humanity we share with our classmates, with the people on our corridor, with the people of Tanzania and Nicaragua, of Greenwich and Bridgeport. It is what allowed young Afrikaaners to see beyond the all-pervasive propaganda of their ethno-nationalist culture.

There is at least one other element that is required in your education here at Fairfield, if you are to become empathetic, effective global citizens. It is something that ought to come naturally, but, curiously, seems to be the cause of great shame for most of us. It is something most of us have been taught to hide or disguise. I am talking about our fundamental human weakness. 

Please do accomplish great things, noble things here at Fairfield, please do stretch and excel, but not at the price of buying into the grandiose expectation of omnipotence and completeness. To deny your fundamental neediness and limitations is to separate yourself from the rest of us, to claim some imaginary higher status. I understand that incompleteness and neediness are frightening, and that illusions of toughness and invulnerability can be comforting, and at times can even feel necessary.

I understand that it is hard not to deny and to hide away from ourselves and others our humanity, our frailty, our fear. But, please, stay with the rest of us mottled, mixed, ordinarily people. Please do not be scandalized by our mistakes, foolishness, limits, our own imperfection and vulnerability. Learn to empathize with us, learn to see yourselves, us all sharing the same humanity, and able to offer one another support, understanding, and even love.

There is a great article about Father Gerry on page 12 in the Spring 2010 Issue of “A Holy Boldness: Pastoral Ministry for Jesuits.”

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7 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Bill, for sharing this eloquent, wise address of Fr. Blaszczak.  His remarks about our human weakness reminded me of a statement made by my history professor at St. Catherine's college.  Dr. McCafferty told us that whenever he went into a library he got sick to his stomach seeing all the books to be read, all the learning to be done and realizing the limits of his time and his capacity.  I've thought of that humble statement many times throughout the past years and recently when i looked at my stack of unread books which is growing by the day! 

If I had the wherewithall and authority I would hand out to each student a copy of Pope Benedict's Encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" and ask them to ponder the pope's message as they prepare to be global citizens.  Here is one sample:  "We are dealing with human beings and human beings need something more than technically proper  care.They need humanity.  They need heartfelt concern.......Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a 'formation of the heart' : they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.  As a result, love of neighbor will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith. a faith which becomes active through love."
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Thanks Janice!

Those students at Fairfield must have felt supported and welcomed knowing that they didn't have to be perfect. What a wonderful way to start college! Fairfield University is fortunate to have Father Blaszczak as Chaplain, not only for his great intelligence and wisdom, but for the manner in which he is truly available to everyone in the college community. I suspect that Father Blaszczak's presence at Fairfield will lead to more than one future vocation among those students. bill
7 years 7 months ago
Dr. Van Ornum,

Thank you for the passage from Father Blaszczak's address to the freshman at Fairfield.  It was only a very short time ago I sat an listened to a similar address as my son was a freshman at Fairfield.  Of all my children, he got the best education as he took a wide range of courses there, much more diversified than I ever had in college.  He took music theory, a year of advanced calculus, philosophy, a wide range of history courses while majoring in economics.  He received an education that prepared himself for the world.


Your post sent me scanning the internet for term ''kenotic'' or kenosis.  It is one that I had not heard before.
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Dear JR Cosgrove:

Fairfield is a great school. This sometimes put me in a bind, especially regarding MAAC/NCAA girl's basketball, as I reach at Marist, kind of a "sister school." Both teams put on a great game last year at the MAAC Final in Albany. I would love a rematch this March! best, bill

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