Interim VP for Mission & Ministry Offers Parents Inspirational Words on a Georgetown Education

August 27th, 2016

My name is Howard Gray, S.J. I am a priest of the Society of Jesus and the Interim Vice President for Mission and Ministry here at Georgetown University. I want to say a few things about the vision and values that animate what we do here at Georgetown because we are a Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning. But let me begin by expressing words of deep gratitude to you

Thank you for entrusting your daughters and sons to us. You have given us a share in the education of minds and hearts that you began so well so long ago. You welcomed these young people into your lives, your families, your friends, your home. You were the first witnesses to the beauty and necessity of hospitality, the welcome we extend to the newcomer in the human family. You were the people who offered God’s welcome to your daughters and sons. None of us would have made it in life without this kind of radical hospitality, a truth I find important to underscore at every baptism I have been asked to celebrate. We all need to know that we are loved and cared for. You gave this gift to your daughters and sons. We continue that hospitality by helping your daughters and sons grow in wisdom, skills, and a care for their world. We thank you for that trust.

A fundamental question is: What does the Jesuit tradition add to university education?
The founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) , employed a favorite metaphor both to describe his own life and to characterize the style of the order he helped to found. The favorite Ignatian symbol was that of the pilgrim and making a pilgrimage. For Ignatius his life was a journey to God and for his followers pilgrimage was their style of ministry and work, We Jesuits discover our meaning and our vocation as we walk through life as learners and lovers. In talking about pilgrims and pilgrimages consider the difference between a pilgrim and a tourist. For a tourist goes through a town, a country, a culture; whereas a pilgrim allows the town, the country, the culture to go through her or him. This sense of mutuality of allowing oneself to be changed, challenged, enriched by what one meets stayed with Ignatius all his life and became a major animating force in the Jesuits. We became who we are by learning and accepting who other folks are. We learn about God by searching for God in the lives we meet. We are all pilgrims.

Here at Georgetown this pilgrimage is shared by women and men of many different faith traditions. We are enriched by our rabbi, our imam, our Protestant and Orthodox ministers, and our new Hindu priest—all of whom are leaders within our community of faith. Yes we are a community of learning and research, of professional education and competency; but we are also a community of faith, pilgrims who wrestle with the mysteries of life.

This faith journey that Georgetown celebrates is sustained by our commitment to human dignity. Human dignity for us is a God-given reality. Created in love we all share this human dignity. Moreover, any time and anywhere this dignity is denied or ignored or threatened, we feel it our duty to respond both as members the human family and as members of a faith-community. What we teach, what we support, what we reverence in every movement towards friendship and love flow from this commitment to the dignity of every human person before God. This is the glue that holds our faith community together through the pilgrimage of life.

Some years ago I served as part of a discernment process on the Thai-Cambodian border. The locale was called Site II, a detention center for Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees. Refugees, then as now, represent courageous men and women who risk life and health to move from an oppressive and destructive environment towards some place of comparative safety and hope. Site II was under the UN and the Thai government. The refugees there all wanted to move to a better and more permanent life in the USA, Canada, the UK, or Germany. These refugees were also people who tried to enlist the NGOs who were working in Site II to give them things, to smuggle out letters, to make contacts for eventual release. But one Cambodian with whom I worked never asked for any favors aside from helping him to improve his English. Near the end of my assignment at Site II this man asked me to have lunch with his family. The day we arranged for my visit, as I walked with him to his family hut, I said to him, “Sambath, you never asked me for anything all the while I have been here. What do you wish for most?” “Oh, Father,” he responded,” I want only to teach my children not to hate. For if they hate, then the enemy has won their souls. That is why you must meet my family. Every other Caucasian has been an authority in their lives. But you are just my friend.”

Over the years I have thought often about what my friend Sambath said to me, about how I learned from this Buddhist how to be a better Christian and Jesuit, about what is important in human life. Sambath remains a cherished character in my life’s pilgrimage. What I experienced years ago is what I hope for your daughters and sons in the Georgetown experience that lies ahead of them. I want them to learn the power of forgiveness and of love.

We began these reflections with gratitude to you for all you have poured into your daughters and sons and for the trust that you hand on to us here at Georgetown to sustain 28894456064_68431bb370_qthat graced work. We are grateful to you for trusting that we will honor the vocation of making them women and men for others.

Rev. Howard Gray, S.J.
Interim Vice-President for Mission and Ministry

This speech was given by Rev. Howard Gray, S.J., Interim Vice President for Mission and Ministry, during the 2016 fall New Student Orientation for new students, parents, and families. 

Mission and Ministry