Loyola University Chicago

Office of the President

Celebrating Catholic Education

Dr. Jo Ann Rooney Remarks at Cardinal Cupich’s “Celebrating Catholic Education” Breakfast

January 24, 2017

Thank you, Cardinal Cupich, for your warm introduction and for the invitation to join you at this important event.  My thanks as well to Dr. Jim Rigg, for his leadership as superintendent of Catholic Schools and to Alan Krashesky for your participation in this morning’s program.  I would also like to thank Cook County Commission President, Toni Preckwinkle, the chairman of Loyola’s Board of Trustees, Bob Parkinson, Betty Parkinson, and my colleagues from Loyola for joining us this morning. 

Click here to watch a video of Dr. Rooney’s keynote address.
• Read more about the event on the Chicago Catholic website.

At this second annual “Celebrating Catholic Education” breakfast, it is a privilege to have been asked to share my thoughts about the importance and impact of Catholic education- not just in our city but across our country. I will contrast that with a recent request I had to speak about whether a Catholic College education is outdated in today’s society. That could be my shortest set of remarks yet. No – such an education is arguably more relevant now than ever before. Thank you.

That relevance and celebrating it is why we are gathered together this morning. In November, I was honored to join Mayor Emanuel’s delegation to witness Cardinal Cupich’s elevation to become the 7th cardinal in Chicago’s history. At the ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father re-affirmed His call for our diverse global community to end what He called an “epidemic of animosity and violence.”  The Holy Father went on to say that this epidemic has a disproportionate impact on the most defenseless “because their voice is weak and silenced by [a] pathology of indifference.” 

Pope Francis’ exhortation to all of us is a contemporary reminder and an urgent call to action underpinning the foundation of Catholic education.  During my inauguration at Loyola this fall, I recalled similarly poignant words from Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the well-known former superior general of the Society of Jesus, who in a 1973 address to Jesuit school alumni said:  “All of us would like to be good to others, and most of us would be good in a good world.  What is difficult is to be good in an evil world, where the egotism of others and the egotism built into the institutions of society attack us….Evil is overcome only by good, egoism by generosity.  It is thus that we must sow justice in our world, substituting love for self-interest as the driving force of society.”

Ignorance, apathy and indifference are often the enablers behind many of the acts of injustice that we witness today. It is through our Catholic faith tradition and our commitment to academic excellence in our Catholic Schools that we prepare students for lives of engagement with and service to one another.  This is the education we are celebrating, because it empowers the defenseless; it seizes ignorance, apathy and indifference; and it becomes part of the soul, the very being of our students driving them to be agents of positive change.

Our shared mission as Catholic educators is to educate young women and men to transform our world by seeing, understanding, and acting.  It is an engaged pedagogy rooted in a commitment not just to educate but to inspire hearts and minds to make the world a better place by being of service. At Loyola University, like so many of you and your institutions represented here today, we see ourselves as educators, as societal change agents, committed to engaging with the world in all of its grit and glory. We want to inspire our students and each other to reach deep within, risk discomfort, confront ambiguities, and take on the difficult and divisive issues impacting our world.  Universities, especially research institutions like Loyola, are seen as the catalysts for breaking the cycle of poverty through education; the leaders of our political and governmental systems by modeling respectful dialogue and civil discourse; and the innovators developing breakthroughs in translational medical research to address health care disparities, environmental sustainability and more. 

Through Catholic education we train doctors and nurses who are committed to the dignity of every person.  Lawyers who seek justice on behalf of their clients.  Corporate executives rooted in ethical, values-based leadership. Social workers with empathy and Teachers who work to ensure that each student reaches his or her greatest human potential. Catholic education has also provided the foundation for many of our local and state government representatives to serve our communities.  A full 10% of the United State Congress is comprised of Jesuit-educated women and men—56 members of this 115th congress, to be exact. Knowing this should help give you hope, sustain your faith in our democracy, and raise your expectation for positive sustainable change.

In many ways, you as Catholic elementary and high school educators and administrators in over 200 schools throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago are the ones planting the seeds of transformative education in our young people.  It is up to all of us to further nurture and support their growth.

There is much work to be done to ensure that Catholic education remains accessible and affordable to a diverse community of talented young women and men, including students who speak a language other than English at home.  As Cardinal Cupich underscored in his Chicago Tribune op-ed earlier this month, “Pope Francis reminded us of our shared identity with immigrants when he spoke to the U.S. Congress and said ‘We the people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners…Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves….If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.’’ At Loyola, nearly 15% of our freshmen class are the first in their families to attend college, and we currently have nearly 30 DACA students enrolled in our medical school and 80 more in our Arrupe college program.  25% of our freshman class came to us from Catholic high schools in Chicago and around the country, and over 40% of the freshman class have been raised Catholic.  We celebrate that at the same time we celebrate the tremendous ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of our students and all who study, teach and work at Loyola. 

We enjoy some wonderful dynamic partnerships among the institutions represented here today and throughout the Archdiocese that provide the building blocks for the future. Through Loyola’s Andrew M. Greely Center for Catholic Education, we partner with schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago in many ways.  The Catholic Principal Preparation Program develops future principals to meet the complex challenges of leading today’s Catholic schools by developing principals to be mission-driven, faith-based leaders.  We also partner through the Greeley Center with Aspire and the Big Shoulders Fund on the “All Are Welcome” innovative collaboration with the goal of building the capacity of Catholic schools in Chicagoland to include children with disabilities alongside their typically-developing peers in the classroom.  The Greeley Center also leverages the resources of Loyola’s School of Education to design and deliver tailor-made professional development programs to Archdiocesan schools, and the Center hosts one of the largest Catholic educators conferences—the Mustard Seed Project-- on Inclusive Practices within Catholic schools.  We also have a robust LUChoice two-year service-teaching program for college graduates who serve as teachers in elementary classrooms throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago.  These partnerships with the Archdiocese are critical to our efforts to prepare women and men who exemplify and live lives of faith and service.

At this time in our history and in this place in our country, where we are confronted by an epidemic of animosity and violence, it is up to us as educators, as Catholic school educators, to recommit ourselves each day to the important work of educating the next generation who will be transformed by their educations to make a difference in our world.   Catholic education is a promise, it is a pledge, it is a vow to our young people.  At Loyola, we talk about: “Preparing people to lead extraordinary lives.”  Extraordinary in faith, extraordinary in love, and extraordinary in service.  Yes, Catholic Education is more relevant, more vital today than ever.  It is truly an extraordinary gift worth celebrating.

Thank you.