At first glance, a literal first glance, from the glowing crosses atop St. Aloysius and the candles circling Mary in the Grotto, Gonzaga appears to be a very Catholic university. When I first toured the campus, I remember being wary of what appeared to be a very heavy religious influence over life at GU.
Being someone who was never raised in a religious household, let alone brought up in the Catholic church, it was somewhat daunting to me to embark on this new journey, one so intertwined with a faith so foreign to me.
This all changed as soon as I really began my time and journey here at GU, and any apprehensions I had about being pressured to conform to any certain religion or practice flew out the window. While it took me a while to become accustomed to walking past Nuns in College Hall, and Ash Wednesday threw me for a loop, I began to not only become acclimated to life at a Jesuit college, I began to truly appreciate the way that faith played a role in life at GU.
While I wasn’t brought up in a religious household, both my parents were. They had the full Catholic childhood, so much so that my dad was an altar boy all throughout high school. Although neither would call themselves Catholic or religious today, they both saw the benefits that accompanied a Jesuit university.
While I was wandering around aimlessly trying to keep a tally of how many statues of Jesus I saw on our tour, they were discussing with the tour guide the benefits of requiring students to enroll in religion courses throughout our four years.
I still remember walking into my first religion class sophomore year, and although I had just gotten myself through the horrors of organic chemistry, this class had me sweating as I made my way to my seat. And not just from the painful College Hall stairs.
The lecture began and the professor casually referenced a Bible verse a few minutes in. I saw everyone around me nodding in agreement, completely understanding everything that was being said, as I frantically searched for my notebook to write down as much as I could in order to try to later figure out what in the world was happening. It might as well have been a foreign language class to me.
Low and behold, just like any other class at GU, it was tough, but I got through it. What I remember most from that class weren’t the times I sat there wide-eyed and confused as the professor listed off a dozen names that I had never heard of. Nor the times where I spent hours trying to find a singular Bible verse.
What I do remember from that class is the camaraderie formed from the little bubble of desks around me, and the friendships that were started with a simple “do you have any idea what’s happening right now?”
This to me is the true meaning of a Jesuit education. I may never fully understand it in the context of a Bible verse, or a sermon given at mass, but I think the true value of what it means to attend a Catholic school is to make sure that everyone around you feels included and supported.
We’re living through a time in history where this support is being tested and people’s true colors are beginning to show. We’ve seen the ways that GU has let our students down in the past or stood to the side and let injustices slide. This is where I believe we cannot rely on teachings from a book, but rather on the actions of one another and actively practicing what a Jesuit education preaches.
Being an active member of GU’s Jesuit foundation isn’t about how many times you attend church or how many religion courses you take. It’s about being there for each other and speaking up when you see an injustice. It’s about putting the pressure on those in charge to make the necessary changes so that all of us on campus can feel safe and supported, always.
Going to a Catholic university, much to my relief, has nothing to do with memorizing Bible verses or knowing the difference between a priest, a pastor and a reverend (I still have no clue). It’s about what you do with the Jesuit education given to you, and how you lift those around you up.
It’s about making sure that from the moment we walked through the doors of St. Al’s for our freshman academic convocation, to the final few moments we gather in that same space our senior year, and every moment in between, those around you are seen, heard and cared for.
While I’m quite confident that I’ll never be able to pronounce most of the names in the Bible, nor will I ever be able to spell St. Aloysius without spell check. I do know that once my four years at GU are over, I will walk away knowing that I will keep and cherish the Jesuit values I learned here, and do my part to help make the world around me a little better.