With more than 600 years of operation between them, the five Universities of the US West province have trained award-winning researchers, giants of industry, religious and political leaders, beloved athletes and earned reputations for pushing forward the state of education. With three Universities in California, (Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, University of San Francisco) and two in the state of Washington (Seattle University, Gonzaga University) the Universities of US West have become an integral part of the foundation of their hosting cities. Together they educate more than 44,000 students in dozens of disciplines, both undergraduate and postgraduate.
Being a “Jesuit University” however, means more than just rigorous academics and century-spanning lineages. The Universities of US West must compete against institutions of higher learning around the world while maintaining their Catholic/Jesuit identity. Doing so requires leadership that pays as close attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit as it does the needs of academia.
As part of his visitation of the Province, Fr. General Arturo Sosa met with the presidents and mission officers of the five Universities of US West on the campus of Seattle University. In two hours of conversation, prayer and sharing, Fr. General learned about the culture of each University and offered his insight into their importance in the worldwide Society of Jesus. We asked Fr. Dorian Llywelyn, the Executive Director of the Ignatian Center and Mission Officer at Santa Clara University, for his reflections on the visit.
Dorian Llywelyn SJ:
“So what’s that, exactly?” is often what people ask when I tell them I’m a Mission Officer at a Jesuit university. My peers and I talk of ourselves as being a combination of interpreter, teacher, spiritual director, tour guide, intellectual wrangler, bridge-builder, nerve-calmer, friend-raiser, entrepreneur, and evangelist. Our ministry involves information and formation, explaining to a wide range of audiences what being a Jesuit university in the 21st century involves (as well as what it doesn’t involve). The more creative part of our work is helping faculty and staff find their place within our Jesuit educational mission, which is often a case of helping them discover the mission that is invariably already present in their work.
Along with my mission-officer colleagues at the five Jesuit universities in the Western USA Province and our respective Presidents, I recently had the privilege of taking part in a conversation with Fr. Arturo Sosa on the current opportunities and challenges for Jesuit higher education in the Western United States. The Presidents gave Father General a comprehensive grounding in our context. They talked about our secular environment, our endeavor to provide high quality but affordable education, our particular governance structures, the relationship between our highly pluralistic communities and the Jesuit and Catholic mission. They also presented our universities’ experience of the Mission Priority Examen, the Self-Study on how we are living out our mission, which all US Jesuit universities have undertaken in the last five years.
Fr. Sosa’s questions were direct and penetrating, showing his clear and sympathetic grasp on the intellectual apostolate we are carrying out. The UWE Mission Officers cohort is a close-knit and very collaborative group. Together we know that our universities are fleshing the four Universal Apostolic Preferences - through opportunities to make the Spiritual Exercises better influence what we do and how we do it; through experiences that bring students, faculty, and staff into direct contact with the anawim of our world and that strengthen real, effective bonds of kinship. As communities that teach and research, our universities are bringing the integral humanism of the Jesuit educational enterprise to bear in our work with the emerging generations, investing earnestly in who our students will become to play their role in the world they will help shape. As teaching and research communities, we help address the most pressing concern of many of our young people: the environment. Witness to the depth of students’ interest is not only what they are studying and researching, but also the many ways in which they are already practically involved as change-makers and leaders in the care of the earth.
Our two hours together was a memorable and valuable exchange of ideas, concerns, and suggestions, helping us recognize each other better as companions in one intellectual apostolate in this Province. With his wide overview, Fr. General broadened our understanding of our own institutions, helping us appreciate more deeply that Jesuit higher education is part of one global enterprise entrusted to us by the Church. Our worldwide Jesuit mission is rich in its diversity and the intellectual apostolate has an indispensable role to play in that one mission. Always adapting to people, times, and places, that mission furthermore anchors our work firmly in the Gospel of Jesus.