In the midst of the avalanche of news coverage of Tim Russert's death comes the inevitable reference to his "working-class" Catholic background, his early education by the Sisters of Mercy, as well as his Jesuit education at Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York and John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. One commentator the other night said he was "raised by Jesuits," which not only unfairly neglects his own remarkable parents, but also makes it sound suspiciously like "raised by wolves."
What may not be known by the average reader is the enormous esteem in which Mr. Russert was held within the Jesuit world. This is not hyperbole. Indeed, this weekend I attended a good friend's Final Vow ceremony, presided over by the New England Provincial, who added Mr. Russert's name in the Prayers of the Faithful. No one was surprised by the mention of his name at Mass: he was a great friend of the Society of Jesus, and one of those alums of whom we were the most proud.
As a testimony to that affection, Russert was a regular recipient of honorary doctorates from seemingly every Jesuit college and university, including Boston College, Fordham University, Loyola College in Maryland, Santa Clara University, The College of the Holy Cross, and on and on, as well as perhaps the most popular of all commencement speakers in the Jesuit world.
This weekend one Jesuit recounted that Russert once told him that one of his favorite activities, after watching the Buffalo Bills play, was giving commencement addresses at Jesuit schools.
Russert seemed to embody a certain ideal of Jesuit education: the working-class youth who, through hard work and faith, contributed to his family, to his church and to the common good, doing it all with a sense of humor, even about his own Jesuit past. He delighted in recounting the comment of John Sturm, S.J., prefect of discipline at Canisius. When the young Russert asked Fr. Sturn for mercy after a minor infraction, the prefect said, "Mercy is for God. I deliver justice!"
The "man for others" to quote Pedro Arrupe, S.J., is an oft-used expression to describe the ideal Jesuit alumnus. (Today it's the "man and woman for others" or the "man and woman for and with others.") Father Arrupe, the former superior general of the Society of Jesus, meant this is as a real challenge: it was not simply about "being nice" but being a person of self-sacrifice, a person who tried his or her best to emulate Christ in his labors and loves.
Russert seemed to embody this ideal in his profession and his personal life. He wasn't perfect, but he sacrificed and worked diligently to serve his country, his family, and his God.
It seems fitting today that his funeral Mass will be celebrated at the Jesuits' Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. Presiding at Mass will be another graduate of a Jesuit high school and college, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick.
James Martin, SJ
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Tim Russert Honorary Jesuit
By James Martin, S.J. at America: The National Catholic Weekly