Fordham, a History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003

By Thomas J. Shelley | Go to book overview

20
THE NEW “NORMALCY”

Après le Déluge

In 1815, after the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire and the rush to restore the ancien régime, Pope Pius VII’s sagacious secretary of state, Ercole Cardinal Consalvi, sounded a perceptive warning that it was impossible to restore the status quo as it had existed before the French Revolution. He regarded the attempt as an exercise in futility because of the radical transformation that had taken place in the young people of Europe during the course of the previous twenty-five years. “If the older generation does not realize this,” he added, “they misread the situation.”

The context of Consalvi’s cautionary remarks was his effort to prevent the zelanti in the Roman Curia from implementing a full-blown restoration of the pre-revolutionary clerical government in the Papal States where, he said, “the young people have not known the pontifical government, and they have formed a bad impression of it.” Consalvi’s words were also good advice 160 years later as a plea for moderation on the part of American college presidents who were struggling to restore some degree of “normalcy” on their campuses in the aftermath of the upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s.1

Although protests and demonstrations ceased to be daily events in academia during the course of the 1970s, the college students of that era— even those who eschewed the violent tactics of the dwindling breed of campus radicals—were different from their immediate predecessors. Many remained deeply concerned about political, economic, and social issues and expected to have a greater role in the shaping of their own college education. In Catholic institutions the winds of change unleashed by Vatican II were an additional reason to believe that the attempt to restore the ancien régime was not only inadvisable but probably impossible.

In the fall of 1972 Fordham’s newly elected president, Father James J. Finlay, S.J., a self-styled New Deal Democrat, quickly indicated that he

1. Consalvi to Cardinal Pacca, June 12, 1815, in Jean Leflon, La Crise Révolutionnaire,
1789–1846
(Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1951), 310.

-435-

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