Georgetown Prep president: Working for hope in a season of contempt

(Photo credit: Georgetown Preparatory School)

Toward the end of the oft-cited (but less frequently read) address by Pedro Arrupe, S.J., commonly referred to as “Men for Others,” Father Arrupe, the superior general of the Society of Jesus at the time, struggles with the problem of what the alumni of Jesuit institutions, and by extension what the institutions themselves, might do to formulate a genuine response to the call of a faith seeking justice in a fallen world. One of the possible responses Father Arrupe notes is that those who have privilege—the well-educated alumni and the distinguished schools—should renounce it. In the end, however, Father Arrupe rejects this solution as facile. He points out that privilege is but a tool and that if good men and women will not use that tool for the good, others who are less scrupulous and more egotistical will be happy to use it for their own ends rather than for the goal of creating a more just world that reflects to all, especially to those who are less privileged, the undiscriminating, spontaneous, generous and merciful love of God.

This has been much on my mind these past weeks as I have read the repeated caricatures in the media and the internet of the institution I now lead, Georgetown Preparatory School, as privileged, elitist, uncaring and negligent. While Georgetown Prep has been much in the spotlight, our sister schools here in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, as well as our brother Jesuit schools, have also been painted with the same caricature. And, frankly, it is time to confront the caricature and speak plainly about the reality.

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Father James Van Dyke, S.J.: "It is time to confront the caricature and speak plainly about the reality."

That Georgetown Prep and its sister schools in Montgomery County, Md., are fortunate is undeniable. Having moved out of the precincts of Georgetown University in 1919 to what was then sparsely inhabited woodlands, Prep has benefited from the explosive growth of suburban Washington, D.C., and especially from the growing prosperity of a tightly connected group of Catholic families that have been sending their sons to the school for generations. Yet the image of good fortune and prosperity often belies a different reality. For instance, the school has been also for generations the home to a population of international and other boarding students. And it has always been a home to students whose families could never afford tuition and in some cases could not even afford the cost of commuting. That more than one quarter of the school’s population is granted significant financial aid, and that the board of trustees remains committed to expanding the school’s racial and economic diversity even further, is not what one reads or hears about in the caricatures.

That the school is expensive (another oft-mentioned point) is also true, but it is expensive precisely because we are committed to creating to the best of our ability an educational system that truly works. That means that we commit ourselves to paying our faculty as well as we can and that we commit ourselves to staffing levels that are far beyond the public or private norm. That means that we underwrite extensive programs of reflection and Christian service. That means that our residence halls are well-staffed, for we are well aware that caring for young men far from home is not a task to be taken lightly, especially in the modern era. That it works, at least by all secular measures, is clear: Our students’ academic growth is outstanding and their college placements are remarkable. But more important, our students have had the opportunity to look beyond that: They have had the opportunity to think about the “why” of things and the “why” of their own lives, and they have had the opportunity to reflect on what might be expected—needed—of them in this world.

Is it foolproof? I would say, with full confidence, no. I have been teaching in Jesuit schools for more than 20 years, and I have met alumni who never grew up, who never came to terms with any of the dreams and ideals that Jesuit education sought to instill in them. But, more important, I have met many more from all walks of life, from plumbers to politicians, from athletes to teachers, from doctors to doormen, who absorbed at least something of what they were exposed to, and used it to be better human beings in a world that needs them. They are no more perfect than you or I, but they have grasped what being “for and with others” might mean in the concrete day-to-day of ordinary life, as well as in the great and exceptional moments.

And do we always get it right? Again I can say, without hesitation, no. We have spent the last weeks listening with grave concern to reports of Prep yearbooks that reflect the worst of adolescent instincts and excess. We are keenly aware that the lack of supervision and oversight of these yearbooks are our fault. Although some items have been misconstrued, others contain language and “inside jokes” demeaning to others. Make no mistake: This is the result of a profound institutional failure—the failure of our institution. And we can only abjectly apologize.

But that represents the failure of the institution, not of the charism. It does not mean that the concept of “men for others”—or more to my liking “men and women for and with others”—is hollow; rather it means that we must be ever and always vigilant that it does not become merely a motto, merely a tagline, merely a really terrific quote to feature on our webpage. It means that “brotherhood,’ a vaunted concept here at Prep, can never be exclusive, never a cover for “boys will be boys” or for secrecy, but rather must always be a challenging response to that haunting, primordial question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“Brotherhood,’ a vaunted concept at Georgetown Preparatory School, can never be exclusive, never a cover for “boys will be boys” or for secrecy, but rather must always be a challenging response to that haunting, primordial question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

One of the mantras I have heard repeatedly is that this is all a problem of the “toxic masculinity” encouraged by single-sex education. Having served as the principal of a coeducational Jesuit school, I can assure anyone that the issues we face in all-boys education are not limited to single-sex schools. The culture of contempt, widely displayed in slap-down “comedies” and in internet and social media bullying, is by no means limited to male culture nor restricted to all-boys schools. To recognize this is not to blame victims or excuse inexcusable behavior. It’s to acknowledge that that behavior is part of a bigger problem facing the larger culture among both men and women that we sadly cannot seem to address—a fundamental lack of respect for persons as such.

Some people have advised me to keep this all in perspective, that the issues that have been raised concern incidents long past. This is not satisfactory, however, at either a personal or an institutional level. That the 1970s and 1980s were a time of great social upheaval was abundantly clear in schools and in homes. Serious educators in public, private, religious and secular schools as well as parents and families have been wrestling with the collateral damage of an out-of-control culture for many decades. The problems of abuse of alcohol and drugs, sexual assault and misconduct, and emotional and physical violence toward others are all too real; educators at every institution of primary, secondary and higher learning in our nation face these problems every day. To the credit of Jesuit school leaders and leaders of other schools, we have been learning together how to confront these realities over the past decades, growing in our understanding of the issues themselves and developing sound policies and protocols that help us address the reality that young people can do terrible and dangerous things and yet must still be taught and helped to reach healthy maturity.

Parents, too, have learned, as is witnessed by the important work of organizations like MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving) and the Community of Concern, organizations created by parents to support and educate other parents as they help their sons and daughters navigate an often unsupportive culture. In the meantime, new challenges arise in the evolving cultures that surround our students and their families—the culture of pornography and sexualization, the culture of consumerism and affluence, the culture of hedonism. It does not seem to me to be a time to withdraw from either past realities or present challenges but rather a time to engage them on behalf of our students and their families with still greater care.

We are a school, not entirely different from other schools, really. We deal with young men and their families and we try, in the best Jesuit tradition, to lead them not merely to academic and athletic excellence but to the personal excellence outlined in TheProfile of the Graduate at Graduation (JSEA 1980, 2010) in which humility and honesty play a fundamental role. In that spirit, we know that this is a good time for us to learn as a community and as an institution. This past year, along with Georgetown University, we have grappled with our institutional participation in the sin of slavery; now we have the opportunity to grapple with the sins of misogyny and contempt. And though we cannot repair the sins of the past, we remain committed to understanding them, understanding how they still exist in our community and our institution, and laboring to make sure our students know in no uncertain terms how wrong these sins are, how intolerable they are to our community and to the larger community, how they undermine and oppress people.

We do not just hope that our students will recognize these evils but that they will battle them—not only in their own souls, nor just in our community here, but even more in the larger world. Because these sins are rampant in our larger world, and our graduates will either fight them or participate in them.

"In their efforts to be men who show respect, men who seek to serve, men who want to offer hope, our students offer witness that bad behavior and cynicism do not have to be the end of this story."

That, finally, is the challenge and the opportunity that I see for Prep, for all Jesuit schools and indeed for any school that dares to take seriously the notion that education is not merely about content but about the formation of character, and especially the traits of empathy and compassion. As I said to our juniors and seniors last week in a blunt discussion of the challenge we face—not a public relations challenge but one of school culture—I have no doubt that they will be intellectually competent as they go to college and beyond. That is not even a question. But will they be competent as human beings; will they have the compassion to enter into the sufferings of others, of the wrong others have experienced? Will they have the courage to stand up for those who suffer injustice and contempt, even standing up to popular and peer culture? Can they do that not only here at school but in their neighborhoods, in their social gatherings, in the larger world as they go to college and beyond?

They have so much potential: In their efforts to be men who show respect, men who seek to serve, men who want to offer hope, they offer witness that bad behavior and cynicism do not have to be the end of this story. If they can persevere in hope and help others to do the same, then “men and women for and with others” is not another empty motto, nor a tagline, nor even a really neat quote on a webpage. It is a living reality.

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Mathew Bomki
8 months 2 weeks ago

Excellent reflection Fr James ! Kudos !

J Jones
8 months 2 weeks ago

I appreciate this piece. You sound like a great educator and I cannot imagine how difficult this time has been for your school. I appreciate the acknowledgement that ADULTS published that yearbook; I can't imagine it will happen at GPrep or anywhere else ever again.

To be honest, I had not interpreted the discussions of "toxic masculinity" in this context as being targeted at all-male or Jesuit all-male institutions in general. (One of my degrees is from an all-female college and I believe that academic environment was of tremendous positive value and do not doubt at all the positive value of all-male educational settings).

You captured the meaning of toxic masculinity as I understand it when you referred to "the sins of misogyny and contempt" which our entire culture must address and, as you clearly understand, that includes Georgetown Prep in Maryland.

It is unfortunate that one of your grads invokes the school as proof of his own good name while refusing to acknowledge, with the hindsight of adulthood, that the behavior he and his friends owned (in their yearbook and elsewhere) has caused harm to the school's good name.

My hope, for your school and all the faculty, students and other grads, is that this most famous Georgetown Prep student will wake up one day and say to you all, "I am sorry I wasn't able to be humbly accountable when confronted with some difficult truths about PART of who I was at Georgetown Prep".

I imagine that as a really gorgeous example of being a(n adult) man for others.

Keep up your good work.

Joe Mcmahon
8 months 2 weeks ago

I'm puzzled. Is Gonzaga Prep in Maryland or in Spokane? I am aware of Gonzaga College HS on North Capitol Street, where the 80 bus runs.

J Jones
8 months 2 weeks ago

You are correct. I meant Georgetown Prep. Thanks.

arthur mccaffrey
8 months 2 weeks ago

now let's hear from the president of an all women's prep school.

Lisa Apple
8 months 2 weeks ago

Miss Porters put out a statement.

Irene Baldwin
8 months 2 weeks ago

Color me unpersuaded. Jesuit high schools mostly educate elites and charge good money to do so. Period. That's fine, somebody needs to teach the rich, though I imagine there are no shortage of volunteers. At the end of the day, whether it's worth it or not depends on the quality of the end product. The jury's out on Judge Kavanaugh and his friends. You would do better not to speak in abstractions but instead give us some counter examples of good men doing good things who came through your school.

Ann Brennan-Zelenka
8 months 2 weeks ago

Omit; see corrected version below.

Ann Brennan-Zelenka
8 months 2 weeks ago

I can assure you there are many good men and women who have graduated from such schools as Georgetown Prep from the time period I and my sisters, brothers and cousins were students at local Washington private Catholic girls’ and boys’ schools in the 60’s to the present time, when the next generation of family members attended the same girls’ and boys’ schools. I have also had the privilege of teaching in one of these schools for 11 years and in similar Catholic private schools in Baltimore for over 25 years. I can emphatically state that what the President of Georgetown Prep articulated so well in the above article is true for all of these schools. There have certainly been failures, but there have been an overwhelming number of alumni from all these schools whose lives reflect, in both their actions and lifestyles, the Gospel values of justice, support of the dignity of the human person in all stages of human life, peace-making, and service to others as followers of Jesus Christ.

Irene Baldwin
8 months 2 weeks ago

I agree with you that Catholic high schools turn out many wonderful men and women. And I sympathize with the situation the current president of Georgetown Prep is facing; I think he is relatively new and just had quite a mess land on him. But read Jane O'Brien's comment below about the culture in the past at that school. I have a daughter at a Catholic girls high school who wants to go to a dance tomorrow night at a Catholic boys (not Jesuit) high school. I don't think I want her to go. This is about girls and about how some boys at Georgetown Prep victimized them. If I were running the school, I would say "I am so sorry for what we did in the past, we are not like that now (and here is why, with specifics) and to ensure that we're never going to be like that again, here is what we plan to do (with specifics). That's about the only decent response one can have. And hopefully, this school has some women leadership in the mix to help them figure out a way forward.

Lisa Apple
8 months 2 weeks ago

That's exactly what I wanted the pres. of GP to say.

Vince Killoran
8 months 2 weeks ago

"Jesuit high schools mostly educate elites and charge good money to do so. Period. "

Georgetown Prep may not be representatives of Jesuit h.s. The one I attended is in a midwestern city. Its tuition is about 30-40% less than other prep schools in the area. What's more, it practices "need-blind admissions." It is truly a class and racial cross section of the metropolitan area.

Mia Angara
8 months 1 week ago

Please see https://www.cristorey.net/

Jane O'Brien
8 months 2 weeks ago

This article made my blood pressure soar. I taught at two of the girls' schools Fr. Van Dyke refers to, for a total of 27 consecutive years from 1978 through 2006. Since last Thursday I have heard from eighteen former students from that era who had never told anyone until last week that they were assaulted or raped at parties like the one Dr. Ford talked about. One woman was gang-raped by four boys, when she was fifteen, at such a party. Many of these revelations were private to me because the women still want to spare the parents knowledge of it--they were afraid of being shamed then, they are afraid of the pain it will bring their parents now to learn they have been carrying such trauma all these years. What I want to note is that nearly all of these girls mentioned that "the Prep boys" had the worst reputation of all the male schools. Several said their parents did not allow them to attend parties held by Prep boys nor were allowed to attend mixes or games held at Prep, specifically. The lack of adult yearbook supervision is a real problem to repent of--the struggle to be sure students do not "sneak in" innuendoes and double-ententres happened in the schools where I taught, but we worked much harder and more successfully at it than Brett Kavangaugh's senior yearbook profile indicates. But that is the least of it. I do believe there was little, if any, effort made to temper the atmosphere of "boys will be boys" that was rampant then. I do believe those alumnae who tell me the Prep boys were the worst by far. (By contrast, there is almost universal admiration for the boys from Washington's other Jesuit boy's school, Gonzaga, who are spoken up as "sticking up for" and "protecting us" and "could almost always be trusted." The portrait of tolerance for excessive amounts of bad behavior in the press is not a caricature--and I have not seen any press on the girls' school that I would consider a cariacture, either. The privilege money offers is not a bad thing but a blessing, if directed appropriately, as Fr. Van Dyke points out. But it is the presence of so much power and entitlement--especially and quite possibly enhanced in the boys' prep schools--that is the problem most at the heart of the matter, and Fr. Van Dyke is either blind to or deliberately ignoring this key component of the "elitism" scrutinized (not caricatured!) in the press. His deflection to how expensive Prep is, how fairly they pay their faculty (yay for that), how many scholarships they offer, or international students attend as boarders--seems off-focus to me. I hope he looks into those yearbooks, talks to alumni from that era, apologizes to any young women harmed by students from Prep who were not taught sufficiently to respect women and who adults supervising them who went to their drunken parties (verified by alumni who were there) and drank with them, enjoyed with them the strippers the boys hired. I hope he convenes a top-level group of administrators and faculty to make sure the culture of neglect, indifference, or perhaps even collusion in such activities as have traumatized women for decades, has been thoroughly remediated at his school. Finally, I find the title of the article, like Justice Kavanaugh's testimony, sadly skewed toward self-pity "a season of contempt") rather than expressing some regret to the women who as teenagers were traumatized as seriously as is humanly possible by boys who tried to get them drunk, worked in pairs or gangs, and then laughed and found it fun without any apparently regard or regret. To focus instead of how "caricatured" his school has been--and to respond defensively without apparently a thought to women still suffering thirty years later from Prep students-- is beyond the pale to me. Please try again to write something--many of us have been waiting to hear from Georgetown Prep--and please do a better job. Respectfully.

J Jones
8 months 2 weeks ago

Wow. It sounds like the school needs to engage its broader community --- students and teachers from schools like yours --- if they are to truly look in the mirror. Thank you for giving voice to the women who confided in you.

Irene Baldwin
8 months 2 weeks ago

That is so, so sad what those girls went through. Thank you for sticking up for them and reminding us who this should really be about and who we should be protecting.

Lucy Strausbaugh
8 months 2 weeks ago

I want to support what Jane Obrien wrote, and add my experience as a teacher of high school girls for over 40 years, where the 'brother school' was a Jesuit all-boys school. I am appalled at the arrogance and cluelessness of this article. This President of Georgetown Prep should be surveying all of the girls' schools in the area to get to the truth he is so strenuously avoiding, and should be on his knees begging their forgiveness for overseeing the education of young men, a percentage of whom have been raping young women for decades and have been getting away with it. But what else can we expect from an all-male institution run by men who belong to the all male clergy of the Catholic Church. Teenage girls rate LAST in that totem pole, a fact I was made painfully aware of for decades. In 1978 the first gang rape (over 5 boys) perpetrated by students from that school happened during 'Beach Week'. The victim knew all of them. In fact they were friends of her brothers, and her parents socialized with their parents, which is why she didn't report. It.Destroyed.Her. And this is NOT A THING OF THE PAST. A percentage of our girls, consistent with national statistic of 1 in 4, have been raped every year I taught to the present. And the assaults have become more violent in this age of internet porn. The misogyny in that school has been nurtured by male teachers who would make sexist jokes, and ask questions like, when a boy turned 18 was his father going to take him to the strip club. Normalized misogyny. I repeatedly contacted the Archdiocese with information about the assaults that this, and other Catholic boys' schools in our area were responsible for, and of course heard nothing from them and they did nothing to ensure that these young men were being educated in a decent environment. It didn't matter to them, in the same way that in 2018 the President of Georgetown Prep is still blowing off the reality that a consistent percentage of his boys have committed felony rape before they graduate. No good that the "men for others" education accomplishes can be justified when it occurs in an environment that makes too many of these young men a danger to young women. I discovered last year that boys from our local Jesuit prep school use the phrase "body count" when they talk about the girls they've had sex with. There must be a proactive restructuring of these all male institutions that addresses their misogyny and toxic masculinity.

Alan Mitchell
8 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you for your reflections in this comment. I wholly agree with your assessment. Thanks especially for the good words about Gonzaga. Our son is a senior there, and I know that the Men of Gonzaga are concerned that their school's reputation has been harmed by the publicity surrounding Georgetown Prep. As you rightly note, Gonzaga did not share in the culture of Georgetown Prep in the 70s and the 80s, and they certainly do not espouse it today. It is unfair to Gonzaga and many other fine Jesuit schools to have been tarred with the same brush.

Adams Greenwood-Ericksen
8 months 2 weeks ago

I admire Fr. Van Dyke's recommitment to the founding principles of Jesuit education, but I found the mea culpa rather inadequate. As a student at a nearby private school in the 1990's, I can tell you that Prep men were so widely considered to hold a deeply unsavory reputation for drunkenness, arrogance, and sexually aggressive behavior that it is difficult for me to believe that the faculty were simply unaware of the problem. Certainly, nobody else in the area was. Without a serious and committed investigation into those aspects of Prep's culture that enabled (and might still be enabling) such behavior, it is hard to see this as anything other than a facile attempt to put this behind the institution and return to business as usual. The school (and the communities around it whose trust has been so abused for so long) deserve better.

Carol Sobeck
8 months 2 weeks ago

To counter any false thinking of "boys will be boys" teach strongly that "boys will be men."

Maria Alderson
8 months 2 weeks ago

Please, Father. Try again. And this time apologize.

John Mack
8 months 2 weeks ago

Your comment is just and sadly appropriate. The smell of power and access to power in DC is intoxicating and blinding. Clearly Fr. does not have to think about what is to have daughters.

Benjamin Recchie
8 months 2 weeks ago

"...more than one quarter of the school’s population is granted significant financial aid..."

This could be rephrased to read "Almost three quarters of our students come from families wealthy enough to pay $37,215 a year out of pocket."

Doesn't seem that impressive when you put it that way, does it.

John Mack
8 months 2 weeks ago

I attended an all boys Jesuit HS (all students were on scholarship). No, there was nothing like the debauchery of Kavanaugh's privileged, smug, arrogant, nihilistic circle of bros. But I question this "men for others" mantra . From what I can observe this mantra/ethic reduces altruism to pious practices and soup kitchen agape a la Paul Ryan = working like demons to take away people's health care, social security (yes, that's in the plan), welfare, food stamps. Selfish, class parochial people likje Kavanaugh can congratulate themselves on being "men for others" while systematically harming others of a lower class. Other statements of ethical mission would be far better than this shallow slogan. First of all, It is ethically/morally dangerous because it does not emphasize "Do no harm." Instead it says to "Do good." How easily doing a bit of shallow good can justify doing a lot of seriously consequential harm. Hitler and Stalin thought they were doing good. They did have to face the basic ethical principle of "Do no harm." Kavanaugh is a perfect example of claiming to be innocent of the harm he did and still does because after all he is a "man for others" and he does the soup kitchen photo op. Secondly, it appears that this shallow mantra has replaced any serious exploration of the traditional, fundamental and necessary Catholic virtues of prudence/foresight; justice (including distributive justice); fortitude; mercy/temperance/moderation; faith; hope; and charity/amity/human solidarity, solidarity with the lovingkindness of God. By their fruits you shall know them, and I fear that Kavanaugh is perfect fruit of a very flawed education in ethics. So too for most Catholic bishops.

What is wrong with the Catholic Church, the Jesuits and their prep schools that this man is considered a "successful" fruit of those institutions?

John Mack
8 months 2 weeks ago

Here we go again, "It's the media's fault." The same lame whining we heard from the cover up bishops and the uber-Catholic apologists in regard to the clerical sex crimes and child rapes.

Stefan Svilich
8 months 2 weeks ago

The good Father does not like his school's good name and reputation unjustly slandered either; just like the Judge. How does it feel to have the shoe on the other foot?

Andrea Campana
8 months 2 weeks ago

'For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required' (Luke 12). For those commenting on the price of an education at Georgetown Prep, and fueling the 'who has what' culture, keep in mind that Kavanaugh is a public servant. Because our culture demands that we measure everything according to monetary value, keep in mind that his salary (a matter of public record) is about one eighth of what an attorney of his caliber could be earning as a partner in a private law firm.

Jane O'Brien
8 months 2 weeks ago

Yes, I think "noblesse oblige" was always emphasized and that it's a valid concept to focus on in educating the wealthy and privileged. I do not see the wealth of the school or the number of scholarships they offer as relevant in the discussion about loutish behavior, lack of respect for women, and the freedom for the kind of aggressive 'horseplay" that might fall short of rape but leave a young woman feeling violated for decades. To me it's not about money but about power, and especially the culture of entitlement. I think that was often unchecked and even encouraged in these schools. Sad to say, I've seen in in Jesuits (I'm an alum of three Jesuit colleges). And this particular school always had the worst reputation during the Kavanaugh era of excessive drinking and excessively aggressive behavior toward girls. It seems like an open secret, it has been commented on by so many different populations, including alumni themselves. There is almost no one involved with teens during that era--coaches, faculty, parents, etc.--who doesn't need to examine our consciences and find things we regret. But Prep stands out, sadly, as having a great, great deal to repent of, learn from, and be sure isn't being repeated in any, any way today.

Jane O'Brien
8 months 2 weeks ago

Yes, I think "noblesse oblige" was always emphasized and that it's a valid concept to focus on in educating the wealthy and privileged. I do not see the wealth of the school or the number of scholarships they offer as relevant in the discussion about loutish behavior, lack of respect for women, and the freedom for the kind of aggressive 'horseplay" that might fall short of rape but leave a young woman feeling violated for decades. To me it's not about money but about power, and especially the culture of entitlement. I think that was often unchecked and even encouraged in these schools. Sad to say, I've seen in in Jesuits (I'm an alum of three Jesuit colleges). And this particular school always had the worst reputation during the Kavanaugh era of excessive drinking and excessively aggressive behavior toward girls. I've heard it from parents who banned their daughters from any Prep parties or attending mixers or sports' games at their campus. I've heard it from students who were wary and passed on warnings to other girls about Prep boys. I've heard it from men who themselves went to Prep during this era, and from other men who went to other schools and always considered the Prep boys "beasts," partly in macho admiration, partly in revulsion, wanting to shield their sisters, for instance from their friends who attended Prep. It was the culture, there is almost no one involved with teens during that era--coaches, faculty, parents, etc.--who doesn't need to examine our consciences and find things we regret. But Prep stands out, sadly, as having a great, great deal to repent of and learn from and be sure isn't being repeated in any, any way today.

Sam Zeng
8 months 2 weeks ago

Thanks for confirming that it is actually "men for others" and not "saints for others"

Barry Fitzpatrick
8 months 2 weeks ago

I was on the other side of Montgomery County, MD, in the 1980s, serving as the principal of another Catholic all boys school. I can assure you only of this, that the Georgetown Prep of today is not the Prep of the 1980s, and I know that Fr. VanDyke and his faculty are doing their level best to stay true to the mission of Jesuit education as they form men for others in the Ignatian tradition. How does what they do today help us with what has gone on in the past? It can only help if we stop yelling, admit our mistakes, and create new and creative programs that help form the attitudes and behaviors of the young people of today. These programs, these initiatives need to be serious, ongoing, and always open to refinement. They need to be implemented knowing we are imperfect vessels that can only carry what we will hold, but also knowing that we need to be pushed beyond our present boundaries as we struggle to atone for what has happened and as we wrestle with the never ending issues of right relationship, especially as they affect the treatment of women. I am thinking of formative experiences which can have great impact on a young person's formation in high school and beyond.
Catholic high schools in the DC area in the 1980s were a laboratory for many of the cultural excesses that they mightily strove to overcome. Drinking, drugging, and heinous sexual behavior were what we attacked as we attempted to make our mission make sense. None of us were perfect, nor is Fr Van Dyke claiming to be now. As we pray about the best atonement we can offer, let's listen to each other, love each other still, and let's help the young people in our schools to grow up with more faithful and loving hearts and minds so they can pass on to their children the lesson of being someone who forgets self in service to others.

Jane O'Brien
8 months 2 weeks ago

I appreciate your measured response. I did not see any strong apology in Fr. Van Dyke's article except for the yearbook debacle. I did not see any mention of working harder specifically to teach their students to respect women, and not see them as objects of pleasure. I wish he had mentioned some of the things you mentioned, especially the need to "stop yelling, admit our mistakes, and create new and creative programs that help form the attitudes and behaviors of the young people of today.

Girl's schools have need of our own repentance. The students of mine who feel they can end their silence about assaults that happened to them 20 or 30 years ago were indoctrinated by us that the responsibility for curating sexual activity was entirely on them. We harped on what they wore, where they went, who they hung out with, what they drank--and inculcated such guilt in them that when they were assaulted, they saw it completely as their fault and keep silent to avoid the shame/blame sure to be put, often solely, on them. Boys seemed to get a free pass, not just at their own schools, but from religious from me who taught them in religious class that their purity was their most precious possession and if they "lost" it, it was their own fault. There is much I regret, among which is the lack of helping young women find the strength to call out the atmosphere that girls were toys or potential conquestst, or even objects to prey on as ways to have fun. We who taught them never really questioned the atmosphere of misogyny and sexism that surrounded us all.

So there is a lot for all of us to regret, repent of, and examine carefully to be sure we are not repeating past patterns, including curricula, that did not serve our students well. I appreciated your post very much.

J Jones
8 months 2 weeks ago

Keep speaking, Jane O'Brien

Chris Byrne
8 months 2 weeks ago

Father Van Dyke,

My entire education (K through College) was in Catholic Institutions. I have been educated by both Jesuits and Vincentians, and have a deep love and respect for the Jesuits. I was never more challenged academically then I was by Hap Ridley. I actually met my wife at Holy Trinity in Georgetown, a church I was drawn to because of priests like Larry Madden and Walter Burghardt.

At the same time I have a hard time taking this piece at face value because I feel that the whole notion of running a largely elite prep school seems counter to core Jesuit values. St. Ignatius believed that reform in the Catholic Church began with reform of the individual. Clearly Georgetown Prep is not a reform school, and people do not send their kids there because they think it is. They do it to protect their kids in an insular environment. Heaven forbid they go to school with the unwashed masses.

If I want to look at a school model that is truly reflective of the Jesuit spirit, it is the Jesuit network of Cristo Rey schools. The school in Atlanta just graduated its first class and I was more than impressed with what I saw when I toured it last year. If I had to choose to hire a graduate of a school like Prep and a Cristo Rey school, I would (all things being equal) choose the Cristo Rey school because they had NOTHING handed to them on a platter like many, many of the Prep school students.

Kate Reyham
8 months 2 weeks ago

Incidentally, prior to his position at Georgetown Prep, Fr. Jim was the founding principal of Cristo Rey Atlanta.

Jane O'Brien
8 months 2 weeks ago

Thanks for adding this detail. Cristo Rey is one of the most exciting and innovative initiatives in education anywhere. I work at DePaul Cristo Rey School in Cincinnati. Helps me to be less angry at Fr. Van Dyke's article, which seemed so weak and strategic in its expressed regret, and seemed extra-defensive about the wealth of the school, which isn't really relevant to the "rape culture' existent in the school in that era. I wish he had faced up to the culture of power and entitlement that allowed boys to think they could have/get anything they wanted without considering the consequences of their actions on anyone else.

Kenneth Michaels
8 months 2 weeks ago

Fr Van Dyke's blaming of the 70s and 80s culture does not wash. The students at Georgetown were and are part of the privileged elite. They should be better than the rest, or the educators have failed. I was reminded by a former co-worker this morning that when I attended an all-boys Catholic high school in Chicago, the sado-masochism and perversion of some of our religious teachers was well known, and we went out of our way to avoid some of the Christian brothers. It's really tiresome to find yourself constantly feeling apologetic for being Catholic.

Kenneth Michaels
8 months 2 weeks ago

Fr Van Dyke's blaming of the 70s and 80s culture does not wash. The students at Georgetown were and are the part of the privileged elite. They should be better than the rest or the educators have failed. I reminded by an old co-worker this morning that I attended an all-boys Catholic high school in Chicago and sado-masochism and perversion of some of our religious teachers was well known and we went out of our way to avoid some of the Christian brothers. It's really tiresome to find yourself constantly feeling apologetic for being Catholic.

Judith Butler
8 months 2 weeks ago

I am grateful that the President felt the need to respond to the Kavanaugh event on behalf of his institution and perhaps of the others who are swept into the discussion of being “privileged, elitist, uncaring, and negligent”.
As an alumna of a Jesuit university and a Jesuit law school, and a long time supporter of Jesuit ministries, my heart ached at the response. The most crucial issue before us as a nation and as a Church is the unequal treatment of women.
While you addressed the issue of wealth, it appears you do not yet understand male privilege. There has been much press about Kavanaugh ‘s treatment of his accusers: deny, blame, invoke sympathy for HIS position. Did you not see the way Judge Kavanaugh treated the Senators who happened to be female? Somehow he feels he is entitled to this high position.
You mentioned at the end of your response that you need to “grapple with the sin of misogyny. “ I pray that it starts now.

Eva Arnott
8 months 2 weeks ago

We already knew that when young males have access to alcohol they behave badly. Some will go downhill from there and others will grow up and become responsible adults. Saint Augustine, Evelyn Waugh and Thomas Merton come to mind.

Edward Gallagher
8 months 2 weeks ago

Georgetown Prep sounds a lot like many of the New England WASP prep schools where upper-class privilege and a profound sense of entitlement flourish. And little wonder! If dad and granddad are lawyers (like Kavanaugh’s), lobbyists, physicians, corporate CEOs, or financiers, if all your neighbors are similarly connected, why wouldn't you and your high school pals feel exempt from the social norms in place to keep the masses in line.
John W. O’Malley, SJ, has written about the intention of the first Jesuits to open their high schools to all, regardless of ability to pay:
"One of the special features of the Jesuit schools was that they were open to students from every social class. This was made possible by Ignatius's insistence that, in some fashion or other, the schools be endowed, so that tuition would not be necessary. In their ministries he wanted the Jesuits to minister to anybody in need, regardless of social status or socioeconomic class. Regarding the schools, he specifically enjoined that they be open "to rich and poor alike, without distinction.
Jesuit schools even in the beginning are usually described as catering to the rich, and there is no doubt that over the course of the years and then of the centuries most of the schools tended to move in that direction.”
Georgetown Prep by moving in that direction has, despite Father Van Dyke's claims, allowed at least one of these sons of privilege to turn out like Kavanaugh: narrow, pompous, unhinged, spoiled, entitled. I see no "man for others" here.

Allison Quinn
8 months 2 weeks ago

The Kavanaugh inquisition is an ANTI-CATHOLIC witchhunt and most of the prime attackers happen to be Jewish (atheist or otherwise). Catholics need to defend ourselves when we are hated and attacked. Jesus told us we’d be persecuted.

Bonnie Weissman
8 months 2 weeks ago

Please save the anti semitic remarks; they're un Christian and un Catholic. Pope Francis would tell you the same thing. Full disclosure: I am a practicing Catholic married to a Jew with many Jewish friends.

It's not an anti RC witch hunt by Jews. As a Democratic strategist said on FNC last week, "it's all political and all about abortion." The Dems, moving more and more to the Left, are terrified Roe v Wade will be overturned even though Catholic justices have seen it as a legal precedent of over 45 years.

I have no doubt a lot of GT Prep boys did horrible things to young girls and got away with it. We lived in the DC area for 28 years and used to read Washingtonian Magazine, which had an article back in the 90s about bad behavior of kids from elite schools. They mentioned Gonzaga, another Jesuit boys school as having a lot of wild kids, BTW. My oldest attended a super public HS attended by wealthy kids. Some of them also did the same things Kavanaugh is being accused of... and some did not.
I also think something terrible happened to Dr. Ford. I just don't think Brett Kavanaugh had anything to do with it. You're right about one thing--- our church and its institutions have lots of problems. But I don't think Jews are to blame; our leaders and their clerical culture are. BTW, there were others of other faiths who went to town on him too, not just Senator Feinstein. Please get over your terror of the Jews; most are great people. Our Lord was actually brought up in that faith.

Irene Baldwin
8 months 2 weeks ago

I also think this a very anti-Semitic comment and should not go unchallenged on a Catholic blog.

Joe Martino
8 months 2 weeks ago

Father James, I graduated from Archbishop Molloy in 1968 which, at that time, was all boys. Looking back, most of the parents were solidly middle class and more likely to be policeman and fireman rather than attorneys or CEO’s. The sense of entitlement that sometimes comes with a privileged background is not GP’s fault, but, it is something the administration can help counter with an emphasis on charity and humility. In any event, you have my sympathies. This is a tough one.

Vincent Gaglione
8 months 2 weeks ago

As a retired public elementary school educator, I don’t envy Father Van Dyke nor his faculty. How does one get students of privilege to convert to Christian behaviors and humility? I had the same dilemma in a secular institution trying to convert public school children to civic behaviors and humility in their dealings with each other.

The fact is that we really don’t know how to do it, or perhaps better said, do it well. The culture of privilege and the culture of the streets share a similar effect on students, more powerful than any example of or appeals to virtues, religious or civic.

I often recall the statement, its origin I know not where, “Give us ten St Francis of Assisi and we can convert the world.” I used to believe it. Age and reading the daily newspapers make me less sure these days.

Of one thing I am sure. The way to start to convert students is to behave towards them as you would want them to behave towards you and towards others. The power relationships of teachers to students is often a toxic example of the opposite of what we expect. It took me too many years before I recognized that fact, but I did and have never regretted it.

Tim McCreight
8 months 2 weeks ago

I do not envy the position Fr. Van Dyke finds himself in. But that's no reason to accept an argument that, as Father Arrupe might say, is itself "facile."

The issues raised by the confirmation hearings for Georgetown Prep's most infamous alumnus are both manifold and, paradoxically, easily reduced to an unarguable assertion: the behaviors exhibited on September 27, 2018--the self-pitying, wounded cry of a privleged man lashig out at those who question his claims to privlege--was distinctly un-Christian, at least as I was taught it in parochial school.

In Romans 13:1 we are taught to render unto Caesar what is his and unto God what is God's. If there is a scriptural argument for helping create the administrators of Caesar's empire I am unaware of it. So it is, I think, appropriate to queston why the Society is engaged in this project.

Like many who struggle in their faith, I strive for humility because I am often wrong, and there are others whose situations are far worse than mine. I don't always succeed at achieving humility. Unfortunately, Judge Kavanaugh's less than humble behavior seems deep-seated and doesn't differ much from many another graduate of schools such as Georgetown Prep whom I have met.

And while failure is always an event and never a person, such on-going failure to instill basic Christian values legitimately raises the question of whom the school, and by extension the Society, are really serving.

Clearly I have an opinion. And Father Van Dyke and the leaders of the Society of Jesus have my prayers.

तो सुनो भाई
8 months 2 weeks ago

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K Byrne
8 months 2 weeks ago

And I thought that Jesuits had lost their way! Thank you, and please do not blindly follow the destructive, hateful narratives pinned on men/boys in general and schools like Georgetown Prep in particular.

Ignacio Osorio
8 months 1 week ago

Thank you very much Fr. James! Your words are edifying, encouraging and uplifting in these moments of an acrimonious National discourse. Our Jesuit institutions are extraordinary, a gift from the Lord and they are in many ways, a beacon of light and truth. But just as the church and each of us, in constant need of purification. I feel deeply proud and grateful for our Jesuit educational heritage. Blessings!

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