I began thinking about this. If you walk around the University of Texas campus, almost every building has some person’s name on it. Some of them are so named to honor some long-time or important member of the University, but I would be willing to bet that some of the names of the buildings and schools of various sorts are the names of the significant donors.
When it comes to naming rights, the Catholic Church has long taken advantage of this opportunity. As you walk on our lovely courtyard you see in the red bricks the names of many a donor, including several Paulists and Religious Sisters. I also found eleven naming plaques in the courtyard, many “In Loving Memory” of someone. There is one for the St. Francis fountain, another for a rose garden where there is no longer a single rose to be found, and one honoring three Paulists. I suspect another one or two plaques are hiding under the luxuriant growth. In the narthex (foyer) of the church we have plaques listing the donors of the windows, the donors of the church appointments, and another the donor of the main doors. In the sacristy area are plaques for the sound system, the renovation of the sacristy, and the prayer room, all in memory of various loved ones. The Mary chapel has another plaque for the windows there, and finally our main tabernacle, where the Most Blessed Sacrament is kept, bears the inscription “Given in Loving Memory of Their Father and Mother Carter and Mora Joseph, Their Children.” All these are really “naming rights.”
The main difference between the memorials that we have plastered all over our campus and the kind of naming rights that Michael Sandel writes about are that our memorials are all records of individuals or families who contributed to the church, while the naming rights that concern Sandel are corporate donations. Really they are a form of advertising. But how different is that from the kind of self-advertising that our memorial plaques proclaim? Should we take the next logical step and start auctioning off naming rights to corporate entities?
Would it matter to you if the parish were to accrue some needed income from selling naming rights to various corporations? We already have corporate sponsors on the back of our bulletin. Perhaps we could pay off some of the big debt we have on our parking garage by selling off naming rights to parts of our campus. How about the “SpeedyCab.com Narthex?” or the “All Saints Cemetery Mary Chapel.” or the “Such-And-Such Funeral Home Courtyard”? Or the “All Clean Laundromat Baptismal Font?” Well, maybe not.
We remember and give thanks for the generosity of many donors over the years. But we need to be careful about how we do this and exercise both appreciation and good taste. As our culture sinks ever more into consumerism, we need to be careful about what message we send.