Antonin Scalia, former Xavier High School student, dies

The following just appeared in my in-box...remembering Justice Antonin Scalia. There is a lot to disagree with in Scalia's Supreme Court opinions--and I do. I would guess that the current president of Xavier HS may have some disagreements as well, nonetheless he reminds students, parents, and (grandparents) that Scalia was a fascinating character, a human being! a brilliant jurist, and a fellow Catholic. He has written a good letter reminding us of that.

Dear Sons and Friends of Xavier:

Last night, I received a call from Fr. Jim Keenan, S.J., informing me of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia ’53. Our prayers are with his wife Maureen, his family, and his fellow justices.

I will leave it to others to write about Justice Scalia’s legal career and his impact on our nation, but I am happy to share my own experience with the justice during my time as President of Xavier. I was tremendously proud to have a Son of Xavier sitting on the nation’s highest court. Since 1847, Xavier has sent forth young men to be of service to the nation. It is an integral part of who we are. Our Sons have served in every war since the Civil War, defending this nation and the freedoms we hold dear. In the military, the State Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office; in our local communities as policemen, firemen, and elected officials; in the Church as pastors, provincials, and bishops; and in countless other places and professions, the Sons of Xavier have served this nation and led with distinction. As an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia had a distinctive place in the roll of Xavier’s leaders. He dedicated his life to the service of the nation and worked to make real the words of Xavier’s mission statement, “to transform the world for God's greater glory.”

I first met Justice Scalia at the New York Historical Society when he and his friend, Phil Lacovara ’60, along with Walter Dellinger and Benno Schmidt, reenacted Ex parte Milligan, an 1866 Supreme Court case about military tribunals. In 2011, Justice Scalia returned to Xavier and addressed the regiment at the Regimental Awards ceremony that May in the Church of St. Francis Xavier, a church where he prayed often when a student at Xavier. The justice gave a terrific address about the impact of Xavier and the regiment on the life of New York City. He noted as he did that “the worst decision Xavier ever made was to make the regiment optional.” He had said that to me before, and I always reminded him that reasonable people can disagree. I am not sure he ever liked that response.

It was our conversation in the vestibule of the church after the address that I will most remember. Justice Scalia said to me, “Jack, you know I have my issues.” I responded with a smile, “Yes, Justice, I do.” And he continued, “But let me tell you, these are terrific kids. Clearly great things are happening at Xavier.” I encouraged him to lead with that line the next time he spoke about Xavier!

While Justice Scalia missed the regiment, and particularly, the regimental band, he saw clearly that night the good work of Xavier, work that shaped him during his time on 16th Street and work that shapes generations today.

My last time with the justice was after he spoke at the University Club of New York soon after the publication of his book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. Rob Thorburn ’93 invited me to join him for lunch and Justice Scalia’s address. Afterwards we visited with Mrs. Scalia, and I asked her to give the justice my regards. He was signing books. I had little interest in waiting in line, but Mrs. Scalia said to us, “You have to go see him. He’ll be thrilled you are here. Those years at Xavier were very important to him.” So Rob bought two books—tomes on constitutional interpretation—and we waited in line. Everyone else was moved through the line quickly, but the line stopped moving when we reached Justice Scalia. It was clear people were wondering, “Who are those two guys Justice Scalia is actually talking to?” Rob and I had a very nice few minutes with the justice. It was the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, and we spoke about Aquinas, the Dominicans, and the Jesuits. He asked about Xavier and we wished each other well. I was grateful we made the point to say hello. It was a reminder that even when we differ, the ties that bind are great, and the power of a Jesuit education endures through the years, whether on the bench of the nation’s highest court or in an office on 16th Street.

I am certain most of the conversation in the days ahead will focus on Justice Scalia’s approach to interpreting the Constitution and the impact of his interpretation on American life. What should not get lost in the conversation is Antonin Scalia’s life of faith. He loved the Church and he believed deeply in a God who loves us and who is the ultimate arbiter of justice. May this God now welcome him home, and may we join our prayers to his for Xavier, for the Church, and for the nation.

        "May the angels lead Nino into paradise; may the martyrs receive him and
         lead him to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive him and
         with Lazarus, poor no more, may he have eternal rest."

Jack Raslowsky

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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