By Fr. Dan McDonald, SJ
On March 11, 2019, Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, gave his permission and blessing to move forward with a pilot program recognizing administrators, faculty, and staff as partners dedicated to the Jesuit, Catholic educational mission in higher education at the USA Midwest Province universities.
The initiative was the creative inspiration of Dr. Debra Mooney, vice president for mission and identity at Xavier University. The idea for this designation emerged during the provincial assistant for higher education’s annual visit to Xavier in December 2018. I asked the vice president for enrollment if prospective parents ever asked how many Jesuits were active on the Xavier campus. Dr. Mooney responded that indeed families do ask this question and the response was that two full- and one half-time Jesuit worked at Xavier. It occurred to Dr. Mooney that it would be helpful and accurate if their enrollment officers would be able to add “and xx%(or a total number) of our faculty and staff are Province Ignatian Educators of Distinction.”
There was a second confirmation when I asked the representatives of the university staff committee how collaboration with Jesuits might look in the future. While the first responses focused on the declining presence of Jesuits, there was a tone of desolation. In the discussion that ensued, the group was encouraged to trust the foundation built, for decades, by the late Fr. George Traub, SJ, and Fr. Michael Graham, SJ, president of Xavier, and their own and others’ involvement in the mission and identity of the university—to trust that they and the Jesuits on campus can carry on the tradition. It was a small but significant message and the spirit in the room changed to one of consolation.
The idea for a province recognition was born as a formal way of repeating that message to trust yourself and be confident in articulating and carrying on the mission. It would show the support and trust the province has in the faculty and staff of our universities—and it would be a genuine tie to the province network. The proposal for this recognition was formally presented to the six chief mission officers of the USA Midwest Province universities during their February 15, 2019, virtual meeting. It was enthusiastically received and moved forward with a presentation to Fr. Paulson.
This certificate ceremony has grown across the six USA Midwest Province universities. Xavier held the first Celebration of Excellence and John Carroll University held the second this past January during its Ignatian Heritage Week. Loyola University Chicago has also scheduled this event. The other universities have indicated they will petition Fr. Paulson for this ceremony at their respective universities.
The standard for this program is based on depth and time of education for people engaged in a comprehensive education and/or scholarship on Jesuit identity, including pedagogy, spirituality, and heritage. The requirements are standard across the institutions, such as participation in the major Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities leadership programs, with some specialized opportunities based on the programs available at each institution.
Empowering individuals in this fashion has created the multiplier effect that St. Ignatius of Loyola would have hoped for in Jesuit ministries and institutions. There is already evidence that this acknowledgement and empowerment is taking hold in concrete ways.
Regarding this certificate program, Fr. Paulson noted, “It seems to me that over time, this ‘cohort’ of mission-driven ‘Province Ignatian Educators of Distinction’ would be a group which forms a mission community on our campuses.”
This program has clearly surfaced adults on campuses who are hungry for and receptive to such a call as part of their ministry at our institutions.