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The Jesuits and b-ball: a match made in heaven?

Sovereign State

In 1966, the University of Kentucky’s all-white basketball team played for the NCAA championship against the all-Black Texas Western team. The latter won 72-65. The game has long been hailed as pivotal in integrating college basketball.

But before that, in 1963, Loyola University of Chicago, a Jesuit school, won the NCAA with four Black starters and one white player at point guard.  That game, against the U of Cincinnati, which had an integrated team, is seldom recognized for what it was — a literal game-changer.

I was a student at Loyola in the early ’60s and we always heard about the team’s trip to the South, where people threw pennies at them and refused them service and lodging.  Throughout, the team led by the wonderfully named coach, George Ireland, persevered. One can make the case that the Jesuits did much to integrate America, along, of course, with many civil rights organizations.

The Society of Jesus, the proper name for the Jesuits, was founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534. Ignatius, a Basque soldier, and his dedicated soldiers for Christ, started many universities throughout Europe, decades before the birth of Shakespeare. That’s relevant because every school had an operating theater, putting on plays, holding play contests, staging operas and ballets.  

My mentor, Father John Walsh, S.J. at Marquette U, also a Jesuit school, wrote his PhD Thesis for the Yale Graduate School on Jesuit ballet in the 16 th Century.  Father, as everyone called him, made the case that the Jesuits began modern ballet. I have read his Thesis, the first by any priest for Yale’s Grad School, and it is convincing. One of Father’s most celebrated students is John Neumeier, who has headed the Hamburg ballet since 1973.

 A few years later, Marquette won the NCAA under the legendary coach Al McGuire. Unlike the Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi for whom winning was the only thing, McGuire quipped “Winning is only important in war and surgery.” 

Indeed there is a dark side to the Jebbies, as they are called. There is this little matter of The End Justifies the Means, or as Mr.Pickwick, putting too fine a point upon it, would have said, “The end must be considered and the means appropriately chosen.” Talk about a Jesuwitticism! They were also implicated in the Gunpowder Plot, sometimes known as The Jesuit Treason in 1605 against James I when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up opening day Parliament in London.

(Great series by Judith Rock, writing about a Jesuit scholastic name of Charles du Luc later in 17th century Paris who solves mysteries in and around the school, Jesuit College de Clermont, attended by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, later known as Moliere.  Start with “The Rhetoric of Death” and keep reading.)

They were also accused, perhaps wrongly, of persecuting the Huguenots, aka Protestant Calvinists, although indeed they were persecuted by the Catholic majority.

Have you looked at the latest rankings for the NCAA Men’s basketball? Gonzaga University, #1.

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591) was a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire who renounced his titles and wealth to serve God and the Church as a member of the Society of Jesus.

Ignatius Loyola — Basque to the bone.  The head of the Jesuits is always called The Black Pope, and its head has always been a Basque. 

When the Black Pope, Pedro Arrupe, visited Marquette in 1966, we were indeed blessed with royalty.

When struck by stroke, he forgot the myriad languages he had known and only retained Basque. 

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, though not Basque, is a Jesuit. And Pope Francis.

Basketball: Jazz Ballet.  I have long maintained that’s what BBall is. Improvisational (although much of jazz is carefully scripted) and balletic. There are football teams who require their players to take ballet classes. I am tempted to say BBall players don’t need to. But if the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors aren’t Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, they come pretty darn close.

The Jesuit motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. For the greater glory of God. 

And a whole lot of jazz ballet along the way.

Lonnie Carter is a writer who lives in Falls Village. Email him at lonniety@comcast.net.

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