Danny Fitzpatrick, Contributing Writer
When I was a boy of seven, still inexperienced enough to believe myself possessed of a sort of Millian autonomy with respect to life’s most important decisions, I asked my dad whether I could go to Brother Martin High School. He was half-asleep, this being early on a Saturday morning, but his reply came swiftly, decisively: “No, you’re going to Jesuit.”
In New Orleans, when someone asks “Where’d ya go to school?” they mean high school, not college, and the answer will always set the tone for the ensuing conversation. Jesuit, Brother Martin, Mount Carmel, Dominican, Sacred Heart, St. Augustine, Rummel, Holy Cross, Ursuline … each name calls to mind a certain image, a particular neighborhood, half a dozen rivalries and alliances.
So from the time I was seven, and probably from long before then on a subconscious level, my life was shaped by Jesuit High School, alma mater to nearly all the men in my family for the last three generations. From the time I was a young boy, I was already marked with a certain image, a certain way of thinking, a particular type of spirituality. The men who married my parents and baptized me, who instructed me at Mass and at school, who came to my home for dinner and invited me to theirs, were all Jesuits. These were no men of controversy, though, save insofar as that men who are deeply faithful to Christ and his Church will always be controversial to the secular mind.
The two chief lessons impressed upon all Jesuit students are to do all things for the greater glory of God, and to be men for others. And while these two maxims are in a sense all a man ever need learn, they naturally lead to great achievement in all areas of life, for God honors those who honor him.
As a student at Jesuit, one of my great pleasures was in walking down the second-floor “Hall of Champions” in the quiet of a late afternoon, admiring the hundreds of trophies secured in academic and athletic contests over the past century, as above me the faces of thousands of Jesuit grads smiled down, forever my elders and forever my contemporaries. I had a particular fondness for the faces of my father and of my maternal grandfather, Clendon Butera.
The son of devastatingly poor Sicilian immigrants, my grandfather was awarded a scholarship to attend Jesuit and eventually returned there to teach and coach before going on to found three private elementary schools. His labors have shaped my life in ways of which I am still becoming aware, and they served as inspiration in my own struggles at Jesuit, where the curriculum was in some ways more demanding than that here at UD. The rigors of Greek and Latin can be discouraging to a boy of fifteen, but the harvest ever renews itself. Jesuit rooted me firmly in the Western intellectual tradition; the transition to UD was thus only a spatial and not an intellectual one.
I may be returning to teach at my alma mater next year, just as my grandfather did before me. Whether or not that star of my youthful years is guiding me back to herself, she will ever be a light to my heart and my mind.
And if I’m ever blessed with a son, you can bet he’ll know where he’s going by the time he’s seven.