Of Many Things

John W. Donohue, S.J., who labored at this review from 1972 until 2007, was the last associate editor of America who worked exclusively on a typewriter. Born in 1917, a mere eight years after America was founded, Father Donohue was every bit an old-school Jesuit: smart as a whip, cultured, pious but pastoral, gentle and witty. He wasn’t afraid of “the new ways” as he referred to the late 20th century, but he wasn’t exactly impressed either.

One day, while I was on the staff as a novice, I suggested to him that he might use the Internet for his research rather than walk 14 blocks to the New York Public Library. He looked at me and simply said: “What would be the point in doing that?” When he died in 2010, he was mourned by many; he is still greatly missed, not least because Father Donahue was also one of the nation’s leading experts on education policy.


It seems appropriate that the following excerpt from an article he wrote in 1985 should open this issue on Jesuit education.

Education in the widest sense has two great purposes: the development of intelligence and the development of character. Since, as Pope John XXIII once said, “The only way to be a Christian is by being good,” it is no surprise that Christian teachers, including Jesuits, give moral education primacy.... Indeed, every great philosopher of education not only has said that virtue must be joined to learning but has put virtue first.

Of course, character is not the principal concern of every particular educational agency. Just as gymnasiums train the body and conservatories train musicians, so high schools and colleges have a primarily academic function. But if they take moral education seriously, these schools can make two contributions. They can…teach a standard of right and wrong, and they can create an environment that offers young people some chance to put their ethical convictions into practice....

In a 1909 essay called “Moral Principles in Education,” John Dewey argued that the chief business of a teacher is to see to it that the greatest possible number of ideas acquired by students are so acquired as to become true motivating forces of conduct. Jesuits have always tried to make that their business, although the results have sometimes been ambiguous. In his autobiographical

Fragments of the Century (1973), Michael Harrington, who wrote the enormously influential study of poverty in the United States, The Other America (1963), describes himself as “a pious apostate, an atheist shocked by the faithlessness of the believers, a fellow traveler of moderate Catholicism who has been out of the church for more than 20 years.

In the 1940’s, however, Mr. Harrington was a student at Saint Louis University High School, where, he recalls, “Our knowledge was not free floating; it was always consciously related to ethical and religious values.” One of his classmates was a carefree young man who was to become the famous Dr. Tom Dooley, physician to the Vietnamese War victims in the 1950’s. “I never saw Tom Dooley after the mid-1940’s,” Mr. Harrington writes, “but it is clear that we had developed profound political differences. And yet, I suspect, each of us was motivated, in part at least, by the Jesuit inspiration of our adolescence that insisted so strenuously that a man must live his philosophy.” St. Ignatius would have mourned Michael Harrington’s loss of faith, but he might also have been gratified by that testimony.

John W. Donohue, S.J.

This column has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 30, 2013

An earlier version of this column misidentified the year John W. Donohue, S.J., was born. It was 1917, not 1915.

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