My colleagues and I recently chatted about success in relation to alumni, namely, "What is it? How do we know that we"—meaning our school, a Jesuit college prep—has succeeded? Essentially: what evidence do we look for to reveal that a Xavier College Prep education (a Catholic, Jesuit education) has . . . worked, has been effective, has made a difference?
Moreover, how do we know that it has done so in ways that reflect the uniqueness of Catholic experience? Academic achievement or prestigious graduate admissions are certainly praiseworthy, but they are not uniquely Catholic. Public schools provide the same thing.
One of my colleagues framed it this way: "What do we want for our alumni?" What qualities or characteristics do we want their time at Xavier to have imprinted?
The five of us discussing the matter realized it wasn't easy. It wasn't clear which criteria we should focus on or point to. We all recognized the indispensable centrality of the faith element, the importance of developing lifelong dispositions to prayer, discernment and an unceasing desire for God. At the same time, we also discussed the kinds of matters for which schools are usually held accountable: preparation for additional coursework, job readiness, leadership skills and more. In Jesus we perhaps have a synthesis: he was a carpenter, after all. Practical matters were not beneath him.
We couldn't reach a consensus on any particular criteria, but we did agree that whatever "success" was, it couldn't be quantified or distilled into survey questions. It couldn't be equated to the ranking of a college or the outward expressions of contentment. Success on the terms of the Gospel could look like failure to the eyes of the world. Determining "success" would have to be a case-by-case study, a narrative approach that took into consideration the ways that discipleship can shatter all conventional norms.