Tim Russert visits Gesu School and receives the Jesuit Magis Spirit Award. Pictured here greeting the school president, Christine BeckSee local news article about Tim's appearance to students:
Presentation of Magis Spirit Award
Every day I pass the desk of Father Berret, a Jesuit, an English professor at Saint Joseph’s University. On the desktop now are the books he is reading with his freshman class this fall. Among them is “Big Russ and Me,” an example of biography. The students are learning about history, family, celebrity, generosity and the integrity of life.
Father Berret told me what surprised him most about the book: the book is clearly the story of the Timothy Russert that we honor today with the Magis Spirit award. But, unlike most autobiographies, the whole first chapter is not about the author at all. Rather it is about his father; the book begins in the same way as Jesuit prayers always begin with the placing of oneself in context, with the exercise of giving thanks for all that has been. In paying homage to his father in that first chapter and throughout the book, Tim acknowledges that his own life began long before his birth, and that the millennial work of family and church and community creates a rich fabric. This is a great lesson for college students to learn in an age preoccupied with crises that pressure us always to respond to the now.
The stories of the author’s generous interchanges with nuns in his grade school, of his admiration for the Jesuit priests in his high school, and of his high school job as a receptionist in the Jesuit community house, rang true. Reading these stories, I almost forgot where the book was leading and I expected a chapter after high school or college about entry into the novitiate, the full formation program for a Jesuit.
If he had become a Jesuit, though, he would have missed out on so many of the wonderful formative experiences of his life: his son, for example. But I mention a simple, surprising one. As a young novice, I was frequently assigned to what we called the swill house, taking care of the garbage. But Tim’s whole summer job to help pay his way through college was as a garbage collector, the one who heaved the cans of refuse into the truck. Tim wrote about this job in homage to his father who worked in sanitation his whole life. In reading it I thought that maybe we are not doing the right thing at Saint Joseph’s finding intern jobs for our kids in the fancy offices of finance managers and lawyers. But perhaps Tim’s point is different: Big Russ taught him that there was something wonderful to be learned everywhere; and he himself found something wonderful in this work, another confirmation of a Jesuit phrase: “finding God in all things.”
Tim Russert’s life experience grounds him in this world and in the struggles that we all go through for faith, for justice, for integrity and for the love that is shown in deeds. We look to him as a man who has won victories on all these fronts. Now with our contemporary media, people everywhere in the world can come to know this man and these victories. A true contemporary blessing.
In addition to his highlighting the father-son relationship, let me name his generosity to a new generation of Catholic school kids and his genuine openheartedness towards us here at Gesu from the most seasoned supporter to the kids in the kindergarten. For all these traits and for more we Jesuits and our colleagues honor Tim Russert with the Magis Spirit Award.