Jesuit Father Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, visits with students in 2017 when the “Today” show was on the Baltimore campus. Father Linnane retired June 30, 2021, after 16 years at the helm of the Jesuit university. (CNS photo/courtesy Loyola University Maryland via Catholic Review)
BALTIMORE (CNS) — At every Loyola University Maryland commencement ceremony of recent years, there are usually a few graduating seniors who bound across the stage with a sponge in hand.
Inevitably, they proudly show the objects to Jesuit Father Brian Linnane in a “mission-accomplished” nod to the college president’s frequent appeal for students to “squeeze the sponge dry” of every opportunity at the school.
When Father Linnane completed his 16 years leading Baltimore’s Jesuit university June 30, it’s fair to say the 65-year-old priest took his own advice in how he’s approached his presidency.
The Massachusetts native oversaw a capital campaign that exceeded its $100 million goal. He managed significant physical expansion on campus, helped double the endowment and shepherded the school’s 2013 transition from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to the Patriot League.
Looking back over his tenure, Father Linnane said he was glad to get to know students and offer support in difficult times such as during the coronavirus pandemic. What makes him especially proud is playing a role in increasing what he calls the “academic rigor” at Loyola and in dramatically increasing diversity on what had historically been a predominantly white campus.
When Father Linnane first arrived in 2005, only 8% of the university’s enrollment included students of color. Today, about a third of the undergraduate population is made up of minorities.
“I feel that every cultural perspective and tradition is welcome at the table of conversation and that we learn from that,” Father Linnane told the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese. “We can’t be a viable university unless we attract a very diverse student population, both in terms of ethnic and racial backgrounds, but also socioeconomic backgrounds and in geographic diversity.”
Father Linnane, who also established a leadership position at Loyola for equity and inclusion, said it’s not enough just to have more numbers of minorities on campus or see them successfully graduate. They also must be included in every aspect of college life, he said.
“We need to be sure that those students of color feel they are equally welcome in the university — that their traditions, their stories and their perspectives matter,” he said.
Last year, some Loyola students objected to the name of a campus building that honored Flannery O’Connor, an important 20th-century Catholic writer. Some students were concerned the novelist had used racist language in her youth.
Even though Father Linnane selected the original name for the building and believes O’Connor has valuable insights on topics including race and reconciliation, he agreed to remove the name because of the hurt he said it caused. The building is now named in honor of Sister Thea Bowman, the first African-American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
Father Linnane also has taken special care to be more intentional about Loyola’s connection with its African American neighbors and the wider city.
One of Father Linnane’s earliest efforts as university president was Messina, an interdisciplinary living and learning program for first-year students. Designed to acclimate new students to Baltimore, Loyola and the academic life, the program requires every first-year student to take two linked seminar courses that are connected by a theme such as “leading a good life.” The program also provides out-of-class experiences and extended meetings with professors.
Under Father Linnane’s leadership, Loyola expanded and renovated the Loyola/Notre Dame Library and the Donnelly Science Center. The Ridley Athletic Complex and the McClure Tennis Center also opened during his tenure.
In the fall, the university is expected to open the Miguel B. Fernandez Family Center for Innovation and Collaborative Learning.
Prior to coming to Loyola as president, Father Linnane served on the university’s board of trustees beginning in 2000. He was assistant dean and associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Father Linnane, who entered the Society of Jesus in 1977 and was ordained a priest in 1986, graduated magna cum laude from Boston College in 1977. He holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s department of government and a master’s degree in divinity studies from the Jesuit School of Theology. He also has two master’s degrees and a doctorate from Yale University’s department of religious studies.
In the fall, Father Linnane will return to his academic work when he becomes a visiting scholar at the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. He said he is excited to return to his roots of studying moral theology and health ethics.
Asked how the church can stay true to its teachings on topics such as abortion, assisted suicide and stem-cell research while also engaging the culture, Father Linnane said dialogue is essential. As an example, he noted that some young, highly educated professors sometimes challenge Catholic colleges for not giving out condoms to students.
“I know exactly the moral theology behind it,” he said, “but, you know, they are not going to get it on a one-off thing. We have to be prepared to take their questions seriously — to provide them with the information and the way that the church thinks. I really think that at its best, the Catholic moral tradition reflects a desire for human flourishing.”
Father Linnane said the church needs to do a better job communicating that its pro-life message isn’t just about abortion.
“We don’t really share the wonderful work we do in human development or the work of extraordinary Catholics — religious and lay — who are at the border with people who are despised and threatened,” he said, also citing Catholic healthcare and education outreach across the country. “In our cities – you drive by Our Daily Bread on (Interstate) 83 and you know the workings of the church at the margins of society.”
As a tenured professor in Loyola’s theology department and “president emeritus,” Father Linnane said there’s a possibility he might someday return to the classroom at Loyola if his Jesuit superiors assign him there.
“I have had a really great run here,” he said. “I love this place. I love the city. I love the church in Baltimore. I’ve had a wonderful time and, of course, the well-being of all those institutions and communities will be in my mind for the rest of my life.”
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Matysek is digital editor for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Catholic Review, the archdiocese’s news outlet.