Company Men: On preserving the unique identity of Jesuit universities

The Jesuits in American higher education have lost the principle of assignment. In its place, the principle of attraction has been at work since the 1970s. Previously, the superior of a Jesuit province would, after appropriate consultation, assign one of his men to a given college or university faculty or administration in that province, and the receiving institution would welcome the man to its ranks. This was the principle of assignment.

Operative now is a two-way principle of attraction. The credentialed and qualified Jesuit follows his attraction to a given vacancy at a particular college or university; or the institution, for its part, works to attract a Jesuit to consider working there. The provincial then assigns the man to membership in the Jesuit community associated with the institution to which he has been attracted and is now missioned.

Advertisement

The provincial can no longer assign a man to teach a specific subject or hold a staff position at a specific Jesuit college or university. In the old days, the educational institution and the sponsoring religious community were one corporation. The president of the college or university was also the rector of the Jesuit community. And the governing board of the institution was composed primarily, if not exclusively, of Jesuits. In the 1940s and 1950s separate incorporation began to occur, and the community at a given institution was led by a religious superior who was appointed by the provincial and distinct from the president. Boards gradually opened up to having laypeople as members and as chairpersons; and the board, not the provincial, appointed the president. The Jesuits no longer “owned” the university; the board, no longer exclusively Jesuit, set policy, oversaw hiring decisions and for all practical purposes “owned” the institution.

“We gave it all away,” some Jesuits still lament. Others say, “We have finally arrived in the mainstream of U.S. higher education.”

As this transition has taken place, another change—a cultural shift, really—has occurred. It is typically described as a decline in vocations; some call it a vocation crisis. There are fewer Jesuits in the ranks these days, and the prospects for growth are not positive.

On the 28 Jesuit college and university campuses, meanwhile, offices of “mission and identity” have opened up to protect and preserve the Jesuit identity of the institutions. Campus ministry is prospering. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are touching the lives of lay faculty members, administrators and students in new and creative ways. Courses in Jesuit history and Ignatian spirituality enjoy a prominent place in the curriculum. Off-campus service opportunities abound for students. And many would say that the institutions are now more Jesuit than they have ever been.

In the year after Pope Francis’ election, the Society of Jesus saw a significant increase in men inquiring about the possibility of joining the order. Yet even if there were to be a dramatic rise in the number of young men choosing to join the Society of Jesus in the United States, the institutions still have to be concerned about the preservation of their Jesuit mission and identity. Not all the new recruits will want to pursue ministries in the academic world, although I hope that Jesuit provincials and formation directors will encourage movement in that direction.

In cases where a young layman of generosity and talent might be attracted by the example of Jesuits at work on Jesuit campuses, it seems reasonable to ask why he would want to become a Jesuit if the Jesuit order could not assign him to work in a Jesuit institution. Just as West Point and Annapolis might lose their appeal if, upon graduation, those who enroll there have no guarantee of assignment to an active Army or Navy unit, a potential candidate for admission to the Society of Jesus who wants to work in Jesuit higher education might have second thoughts if the Society were unable to assign him to work in a Jesuit school.

There may, however, be a way around this dilemma. Perhaps we can create on every Jesuit college and university campus a group of Jesuits—say four or five in number, with the rector of the local Jesuit community as their leader. These Jesuits could work as retreat directors, chaplains, moderators, non-tenure track teachers, coaches or counsellors and could work together as a band of brothers whose presence and professional services help to set the institution clearly apart from other schools. This could be a place to which Jesuits could easily be assigned and from which Jesuits might eventually cross over to join the institution’s own tenure-track faculty or professional staff. It is not so wild a dream when you quietly consider it.

Those in key positions throughout the institution, most of them not Jesuits—faculty, staff, administration and trustees—would have to want to see it happen. Budgetary provisions would have to be made so that the institution could pay these Jesuits for their services. Rectors of Jesuit communities would have to become effective team leaders. That, in fact, might be the best word to describe it: a team. The rector would become a broker between those with power to hire within the institution and Jesuits already on or to be recruited for the team and who are available for service. Space would have to be provided in university-owned student unions or campus centers, or “on corridor,” as we used to say referring to service as dormitory counselors. The team would have to be visible and easily identifiable as Jesuit. Again, not so wild a dream presuming that the Jesuits and their lay colleagues want to make it happen.

If this happens, the question of Jesuit identity would pretty much take care of itself, and the admissions offices of these schools would have something additional, if not unique, to pitch when they compete in the tightening race for new students.

This could prove to be a picture of the future of American Jesuit colleges and universities. It could also be a partial response to the challenge the order faces as it deals with diminishing Jesuit manpower in the United States.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jack Rakosky
2 years 6 months ago
Now that we have a Jesuit Pope, who came from the "peripheries” and who constantly urges us to go to the “peripheries”, it is time for the Jesuits in Jesuit higher education to see their mission as bringing the “peripheries” to Jesuit higher education and bringing Jesuit higher education to the “peripheries.” As a global organization the Jesuits are uniquely placed to both bring people from the peripheries as well as to send people to the peripheries. Francis in THE JOY OF GOSPEL says that time conquers space. It is more important to take initiatives that transform the future beyond the present than to try to occupy present spaces. With the coming general congregation and election of a new Jesuit leader it is time to create a new vision of the Jesuit role in Jesuit higher education that moves beyond that of present staff and faculty. We have many lay people who can do those things well. Francis also says that there is an innate tension between globalization and localization. “We need to pay attention to the global so as to avoid narrowness and banality. Yet we also need to look to the local, which keeps our feet on the ground.” Again the Jesuits as a global organization are uniquely placed to aid Jesuit higher education in making the global-local tensions fruitful both within Jesuit institutions and for global societies and the Church. Certainly the creation of such a vision and reality would be an appropriate response to a Jesuit Pope and the Jesuit special vow of going wherever needed by the Pope.
eduardo patino
2 years 6 months ago
Thanks for insights Jack: As a global organization the Jesuits can bring the “peripheries” to Jesuit higher education and bring Jesuit higher education to the “peripheries" as Francis is urging us. Francis warns us about the tension between globalization and localization. “We need to pay attention to the global so as to avoid narrowness and banality. Yet we also need to look to the local, which keeps our feet on the ground.” The global Jesuits may help Jesuit higher education in making the global-local tensions fruitful for the Jesuit institutions, the global societies and the Church. Jesuit make a special vow of obedience to the Pope and go wherever He needs them.
Henry George
2 years 6 months ago
I remember being at an Alumni Dinner for Gonzaga University. I was engaged in a nice conversation with a Doctor who had recently retired. He had graduated from Gonzaga in 1933. He told me that he was in Freshman year when the Great Depression hit and by that Spring his father told him they could not afford to send him to Gonzaga anymore. He confided in his Jesuit professor and a plan was worked out where he could work during school and pay back whatever he owed to Gonzaga in the years following College. He then handed me an envelope which I gave to the Vice President of Gonzaga and in it were to substantial checks - one for Gonzaga and one for the Jesuit community. I can also remember being at a graduation for Seattle University and a graduating Senior was looking at the Banner: Seattle University - A Jesuit Institution and she asked me what were Jesuits. She had never been taught by one. I had a very nice and devout Freshman come up to me after class at a Jesuit College and he said he had just received his financial aid package for his Sophomore year and the amount of his aid was slashed by 75 %. He said he could not afford that. So I went and talked to Jesuits and they said: In the old days we could work something out but now everything is through the financial aid department and we have no influence anymore over there. The young man did not return for his Sophomore year. Not claiming to understand the financial intricacies of running a College or the legal problems if the Jesuits still owned a College lock, stock and barrel - but something has been lost. Too few Jesuits, too little contact with the students, too little influence in helping students with all their possible needs. I like the idea that Jesuits can work as non-tenured Faculty and I wish we were able to help students finish their education when things go awry in their lives.
John Walton
2 years 6 months ago
Would be helpful if the Jesuit Universities remembered first that they are Catholic Universities, and the "mainstream" is not the place to reside.
John Wakefield
2 years 6 months ago
I look at and get a feel for Gonzaga ... now with a ´lay´ President. Doesn´t feel right. Isn´t right. I look at the faces - I am ´out here´ ... third world - I get the tone, what is said. To think that Gonzaga has changed into becoming a Hallmark Greeting card - one always in need of more ´donations´ ... me pone nauseabundo.
Noel Cordero
2 years 6 months ago
I graduated from Fordham University, College at Lincoln Center, 1998. I could imagine how wonderful the days were when the JESUITS actually owned, operated and assigned Jesuits to the teaching ministry at Fordham University and other American Jesuit Universities. I guess the only fully Jesuit and Church OWNED university NOW is the Pontifical Gregorian and the Biblicum in ROME.
John Barbieri
2 years 6 months ago
Perhaps it might be well to consider Eccliseaties 3, The seasons change. The journey continues. Be grateful for the good of yesterday. Don't be afraid of tomorrow.
Thomas Vogel
2 years 4 months ago
I hope Fr. Byron's proposal will be adopted in its entirety. In response to an online comment by Edward Ray in the July 6-13, 2015 issue I must write that he did not fully read or understand the text of the article. Fr. Byron's sixth paragraph mentions offices of mission and identity, and widespread us of the "Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius". There are courses in Jesuit history and Ignatian spirituality, along with off-campus service opportunities. I am a graduate of two Jesuit institutions at the post-high school level, along with two of my children at one. The ethics, logic and rhetoric of the ratio studiorum perhaps have not survived in a core curriculum in the era of electivism. To write that many Jesuit colleges and universities are JINOs (Jesuit in name only) is false. This concept would make the State university on which I am a faculty member and a graduate is a SINO, State in Name Only, since most of its budget does not come from the state, which it ably represents.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A 14-year-old boy receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, after he was in injured during an attack on a mosque (AP Photo/Amr Nabil).
The pope described the attack as a “wanton act of brutality directed at innocent civilians gathered in prayer.”
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
“The Senate proposal is fundamentally flawed as written and requires amendment,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane in a Nov. 22 letter to senators.
Pope Francis greets people at the “Regional Hub,” a government-run processing center for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in Bologna, Italy, Oct. 1. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)
Although he named no countries, Vatican observers believe he is referring especially to political leaders in several western and eastern European countries.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
For Thanksgiving, we give you an inside look into what Jesuit basketball teams to watch out for this season.
Olga SeguraNovember 24, 2017