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Our readersDecember 14, 2023
Chestnut Hill, United States - August 6, 2010: Saint Ignatius Loyola statue in front of Higgins Hall at Boston College, sculpted by Pablo Eduardo. Photo courtesy of iStock.

“It is my contention that those in leadership positions in Jesuit Catholic universities live in three worlds: the university world, the Catholic world and the Jesuit world,” wrote Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago in an essay published online in September, exploring how Jesuit universities can hold true to their mission. The essay explores the opportunities and challenges for educational leaders as they navigate and integrate these worlds, and it elicited spirited responses from our readers, including some of the educational leaders Cardinal Cupich addresses. The full text of the responses can be found at Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education magazine


The Spiritual Exercises can ground us

If I could prescribe only one practice for non-Jesuits to bolster the progress of the mission at their respective schools, along with their own personal development, it would be an active and ongoing engagement with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. I know several presidents and vice presidents who have “made the Exercises,” as we say, whether that happened through the traditional 30-day retreat or by the 19th Annotation, and most of them did so after assuming their posts. All of these leaders speak of the experience as life-changing and continue to draw on the graces received.

The ultimate aim of the Exercises is a deeper and more authentic relationship with Jesus Christ: “Here I shall ask for interior knowledge of the Lord, who became human for me, that I may more love and follow Him” (Spiritual Exercises, No. 104). Of course, that interior knowledge of the Lord always brings with it a greater interior knowledge of the self as well. 

Cardinal Cupich notes that “leaders must know who they are to take up the work of ongoing renewal.” The Exercises provide the ideal opportunity for bringing this dynamic into being.

Beyond that, a dedicated experience of the Spiritual Exercises puts essential things into perspective and yields a higher comfort level in making tough decisions. As senior leaders have seen time and again, decisions usually come down to choosing between goods rather than good or evil. The latter choice is easy, or at least it should be. The former is enlightened and made less daunting by the graces of the Exercises.

Cardinal Cupich notes that “leaders must know who they are to take up the work of ongoing renewal.” The Exercises provide the ideal opportunity for bringing this dynamic into being.

And so for presidents and other leaders in today’s turbulent yet powerfully creative realm of Catholic and Jesuit higher education, I am convinced that an authentic engagement with the Spiritual Exercises, for both Catholics and other Christians, will not only be more impactful for their personal lives and professional tenure but for the vibrancy of the mission of the schools they serve and the hard decisions they must assuredly make. 

Joseph Marina, S.J., is president of the University of Scranton.

Amid plummeting trust, the church needs witnesses

Reflecting on Cardinal Blase J. Cupich’s thoughtful suggestions for strengthening the identity and mission of Jesuit Catholic universities, I am drawn to the “creative tensions” in the interplay between the expectations and demands of the “three worlds” university leaders must navigate: the university world, the Catholic world, and the Jesuit world.

Why does it seem so difficult, in so many settings, for the university world to receive the dynamism of the rich intellectual and spiritual traditions of the Catholic world? 

One challenge for bringing these worlds into fruitful dialogue in university settings is that so much of our work falls into the terrain of a plummeting trust in institutions. Further, with our church torn asunder by devastating political polarization, we can no longer assume that the resources of Catholic social teaching will be received without cynicism and skepticism. How might we meet the challenge, as Cardinal Cupich puts it, to communicate “the fullness of the church’s teaching in a positive light”?

Why does it seem so difficult, in so many settings, for the university world to receive the dynamism of the rich intellectual and spiritual traditions of the Catholic world? 

The observation of Pope Paul VI remains an incisive guide: Our colleagues and students listen “more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if [they do] listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” For those who ground their work in the spiritual and intellectual resources of Catholic traditions, and who find insight and energy to delve into the difficult challenges of our day, we may wish to explore how to cultivate vulnerable spaces to share our stories of personal and intellectual transformation.

A witness to the application and concrete connections between the teachings and traditions and one’s work for cultural transformation can often serve as a sure sign of the hope to which we are called.

Amy Uelman is the director for mission and ministry and a lecturer in religion and professional life at Georgetown Law, as well as a senior research fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

An ongoing project grounded in faith

The cardinal’s linking of renewal with awareness is especially suggestive. In our work with faculty and staff colleagues, as we mount calls for mission-driven renewal, it is essential that we work to elevate our communities’ awareness of our heritage and tradition, so as to enable meaningful appropriation and embodiment of our mission. 

With regard to embodiment, I would suggest both an individualized sense in which we as professors and administrators model a kind of personal fidelity to mission, and also a collective sense of the campus community as embodying core ideals and values in the ways we come together, especially in moments of crisis, and in the kinds of cultures we build and sustain together on our campuses. The cardinal is right to linger on the curriculum as a particular resource and one where we might do even better.

Underlying all is the matter of faith as foundation and catalyst at Jesuit, Catholic universities. Two brilliant and now departed Boston College theologians and colleagues came to mind as I reflected on the cardinal’s insistence on the centrality of faith to all our commitments. The Rev. Michael Himes, on the occasion of our university’s sesquicentennial, proposed that “whatever humanizes, divinizes” is a fundamental precept of the Catholic intellectual tradition as embodied in the Catholic university. 

The Rev. Michael Himes, on the occasion of our university’s sesquicentennial, proposed that “whatever humanizes, divinizes” is a fundamental precept of the Catholic intellectual tradition as embodied in the Catholic university. 

Fifteen years earlier, the Jesuit intellectual Michael Buckley, S.J., in his masterful “The Catholic University as Promise and Project,” centered the Jesuit, Catholic university on a core and enlivening pursuit of truth. As Buckley wrote at the end of the last century, “It is of vital importance that the church encourage, demand, propose, and foster every serious engagement by which human dedication and its consequent effort engage itself with an enterprise whose purpose is truth and whose natural climate and institution is the university.”

The Cupich essay resonates for many reasons. It reminds us of our privileged call to work with faculty and staff colleagues and our students in the pursuit of truth and transcendence.

It insists on a turn to the imagination, even in our work as administrators. As with Father Buckley, we are called to see our universities as ongoing projects, and our work as inspired by the life-giving promise that lies at the heart of the Catholic faith. 

David Quigley is the provost and dean of faculties for Boston College.

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