Seattle University president on Jesuit higher ed in the age of Francis

As one who works and teaches at a Jesuit high school, I often consult the writings of others in the field to see how contemporaries in Ignatian education are framing the mission and purpose of our ministry, to see how they are reading and interpreting the signs of the times. To that end, I enjoyed reading the State of the University Address recently given by Father Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., President of Seattle University. Among a number of comments that caught my attention, here are a few. 

On Pope Francis

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Speaking of Pope Francis, Fr. Sundborg said, "Perhaps nothing can match what we want this Catholic Jesuit university to be more than the example of Pope Francis in mercy, in dialogue, in service of others... and in all things a personal faith in Jesus of the Gospels, which lights up his pilgrim path as pope for Catholics, and moral leader and friend of all." 

Fr. Sundborg asked: "How does the encouragement of this Jesuit pope inspire this Jesuit university? I hope it helps all of us, however we contribute to advancing the mission of Seattle University, feel grateful for our opportunity to serve, renewed for what we do together and joyfully hopeful about the future of our students, our alumni, and their impact on the world."

On Being in Seattle

For Fr. Sundborg, Seattle University's name is critical. It's not enough to be in Seattle; rather, Seattle U must also serve Seattle. Place is important.  

Increasingly, we are glad to tie our future to the promise and the impact of Seattle and its region. We are named for the city and we seek to match its vibrant future, to contribute to it, to use it as our learning lab, and to make it our own. We are proud to be the independent Jesuit university at the heart of Seattle and we aim to have Seattle and its region take pride in the kind of university we are for it and the kind of impact we have with it. As I have said, "Seattle University is Seattle's university!"

I think it's tempting, in education, to lose sight of where one is situated. I think this has been one of the hallmarks of my experience in Jesuit education, the emphasis on where one stands, the mindfulness of context. Though I'm not an expert in Ignatian spirituality, I imagine this emphasis flows from the Ignatian spiritual practice of "composition of place," what Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach (former superior general of the Jesuits) called an "exercise of the imagination to situate prayerful contemplation in concrete human circumstances." 

We want to send off citizens to change the world, but what about that world as it exists outside one's front door, on one's own street? How can we change the world if we don't start with our own neighborhoods?  

On Being a Catholic University

Fr. Sundborg also offered strong comments on the Catholicity of Seattle University, observing: 

I visualize a Seattle University as a Catholic university more central to and accepted as an essential ministry of the Catholic Church of our region and offering so much of importance that is not otherwise available to parishes and people. We are proudly Catholic, committed to engage faithfully in that exciting and challenging arena where church meets culture, to do so within our Jesuit tradition, encouraged by how Pope Francis witnesses to the Jesuit engagement of faith and society, and to do so while providing a center for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and common action. This is our past; and this will be our future.

Though certainly parish life involves culture meeting church in important ways, a Catholic school presents a special opportunity to reflect upon this relationship. A Catholic school, Jesuit or otherwise, is well situated to respond to what the Second Vatican Council urged in "Gaudium et Spes": "In language intelligible to every generation, it [the church] should be able to answer the ever recurring questions which people ask about the meaning of this present life and of the life to come, and how one is related to the other." Students come to campus with questions of all kinds, and influences of all kinds. How we introduce the Gospel, how we inspire young men and women to engage the faith quest, is a delicate and complex task. 

The above were just a few of the paragraphs I found worthwhile. I encourage you to read the rest of Fr. Sundborg's address online at Seattle University's website.      

 
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