The Jesuit president of Loyola University Maryland, Fr. Brian Linnane, S.J., announced recently that Flannery O’Connor’s name is to be taken off one of the university’s dorms because, “Information coming forward recently about O’Connor . . . has revealed that some of her personal writings reflected a racist perspective,” and a “residence hall must be a home and a haven for those who live there, and its name should reflect Loyola’s Jesuit values.”
Would those be the “Jesuit values” that in 1838 allowed the Maryland Jesuits to sell 272 slaves – men, women, and children – to Louisiana’s ex-governor, Henry Johnson, whose son was a Georgetown student, for $115,000, equivalent to $2,761,078 in 2019?
The sale paid off the debts that Fr. Thomas Mulledy, the Jesuit provincial superior (who orchestrated the sale), had accrued when he was president of Georgetown. Would these be the “Jesuit values” that failed to ensure that all the terms of sale were met, terms that included there be no familial separation and that the religious practice of the enslaved people be supported?
I’ve always doubted the wisdom of searching around in people’s private correspondence. Think about the things you may have said in unguarded moments with close friends on the Internet. I like to make jokes and tease my friends, both in person and in writing.
If someone who didn’t know us read some of my comments, I have no doubt they would take me for a despicable person. Now granted, I am a despicable person, but I don’t think you could show this simply by quoting a few comments out of context from several of my emails.
As a matter of basic etiquette, we might ask: Who reads other people’s mail? I can understand reading Einstein’s letters to Neils Bohr to help better understand the development of their ideas and their disagreements, but only if you don’t glance over at private comments – say, for example, if Einstein had said something in passing about Schrödinger’s wife. Those comments aren’t meant for you. You don’t have the relationship with Einstein and Bohr that would allow you to understand those words, let alone to judge them.
People who read other people’s mail are nebbishes, and they should be avoided the way you avoid people who want to gossip about your neighbors. “I heard Mrs. Johnson tell Mrs. Davies the other day that she didn’t like the new postman, but I think that might be because the new postman is Irish and has a lazy eye, and she comes from Arkansas and. . .” You don’t try to resolve all the possible difficulties; you tell such people to mind their own business.
In an earlier column at this site, I called cancel culture “coward culture.” Perhaps I should send a letter of thanks to Fr. Linnane for showing himself so quickly as Exhibit A.
Why would I call the act cowardice rather than a bold move to rectify a past mistake? First, this act costs them nothing. They have given up nothing. It is a meaningless gesture, not a personal sacrifice or penitential act. It is the equivalent of throwing a man overboard in an attempt to quiet the wrath of the storm gods.
Second, it is so obviously and pathetically a bit of “politically correct” virtue-signaling. Can anyone imagine a Jesuit institution taking the name off of a dorm or a building because they discovered the donor or namesake had paid for numerous abortions?
Third, it is an act of rank hypocrisy – and is there anything Christ condemned more vigorously than hypocrisy? – to condemn Flannery O’Connor for being “racist” when the Maryland Jesuits have the history of slave-owning and slave-selling. How about the Maryland Jesuits selling off the building and property of Georgetown University and donating those proceeds to every surviving relative of those slaves that can be found? How about the Maryland Jesuits getting the plank out of their own eye before they gesticulate wildly at the relatively minor splinter in Flannery O’Connor’s private correspondence?
You can hear the plaintive cries now: “But we couldn’t afford to pay all those reparations to the children of those slaves.” No, I don’t suppose they could – not and keep the billions of dollars in endowments they possess or the well-appointed administrative offices. They could, of course, embrace humility, give up all their prestige mongering, and re-embrace their mission of providing a simple, traditional Jesuit education in logic, literature, basic science, and Thomistic philosophy and theology.
No new fancy buildings, no more expensive programs with no students and no professors doing little or no teaching. But who could even imagine such a thing? Not a modern Jesuit university administrator, obviously.
They have renamed the Loyola dorm after Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman – at least for now, until someone starts rooting around in her private correspondence. I have no doubt Flannery O’Connor would have no problem with this. Given what we know of her personality, she wouldn’t care less about having her name on a dorm at a university of the character of Loyola Maryland.
One imagines the whole affair would make perfect material for another Flannery O’Connor story. It might involve a wholly “cosmopolitan” Jesuit priest, born in rural Georgia, but more comfortable in the trendy bistros of Washington, D.C., where he works at a university founded “in the Jesuit tradition” teaching courses on “racial reconciliation.” He preaches the “Church of Christ Without Suffering,” the church “peaceful and self-satisfied,” where there was no Fall and no Judgment and thus no need for Redemption. No one was raised from the dead, and nothing matters but that Jesus was a liberal who hated “haters” and righteously rejected the rigid.
One day, a young black girl calls our Jesuit professor a “warthog from hell.” Unfazed, he tells her she needs therapy for her aggression and calmly orders another martini. The story basically writes itself.
Title: “The Artificial Jesuit.”
*Image: One winds on the distaff what the other spins (i.e., both spread gossip) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559 [Gemäldegalerie, Berlin]. This a detail from Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs: