Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jesuit schools need to recruit lay leaders

Jesuit schools need to recruit lay leaders

By: Patrick Howell, S.J.

Questions about the future of Jesuit leadership at Jesuit universities arose last month when the Gonzaga University Trustees failed to name a Jesuit as the new president. Instead they appointed Dr. Thayne McCulloh, the acting academic vice president, as the interim president for a two-year period. First of all, Thayne McCulloh is an eminently qualified educational leader. As Seattle University president Steve Sundborg, S.J. said recently, "Thayne represents the kind of Jesuit-educated and knowledgably Jesuit-committed leader upon whom the vibrancy and future of the Jesuit character of our universities will increasingly rely." So Gonzaga is in good hands.

Secondly, four of the 28 other Jesuit universities already have someone who is not a Jesuit as the president: Georgetown, St. Peter's College (New Jersey), Loyola University (Townsend, Md), Lemoyne College (Syracuse, NY). In addition, Rockhurst (Kansas City) has a priest who is not a Jesuit as its head. In each of these instances, a Jesuit often has a leading role as a vice president to help promote and articulate the Jesuit vision. Perhaps the collar is still important for fundraising with traditional alums? As far back as 1995, when Jesuit leaders gathered in Rome to discern the future of the Society of Jesus, they commented, "Lay men and women will assume more and more responsibility for the ministries of the Church in parishes, diocesan structures, schools and universities, theological institutions, missions, and works of justice and charity." Consequently, the Jesuits decided to shift from inviting lay people to participate in "our" ministry to one in which the Jesuits assist lay leaders in "their" ministry.

In this supportive role, Jesuits support lay leaders to become more informed with the Jesuit tradition. Jesuits offer the "Spiritual Exercises" through a variety of retreats. They help to articulate and promote Jesuit values. They tell the "war stories" of the early years of Jesuit education. And along with lay colleagues, they help students to realize their gifts and vocational call to service. And very importantly, they provide models of discernment and decision-making for trustees and executive teams-confident that all are guided by God's Spirit.

Fr. Sundborg said of this promising, fresh development, "Seattle University has worked hard over many decades to lay the solid foundation for this promising development. It lies in our future, and we have prepared for it."One of many good examples of this initiative is the new Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP), an 18-month track in Jesuit vision and education for top educators from the 28 Jesuit universities and colleges. Mike Quinn, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, and Joe Phillips, dean of the Albers School of Business and Economics, are the first participants. The program has five features: a national cohort of 55 participants, an intensive online course in Jesuit history, a six-day Ignatian retreat, an immersion program (Nicaragua) and the expectation that the participants will design a project with a clear Jesuit emphasis. The new ICP is just one of many new programs Seattle U has initiated since the Division of Mission and Ministry was established in 2001. Other programs, sponsored by the Office of Jesuit Mission and Identity, go back much farther: Colleagues in Jesuit Education (1989), the Nicaragua Immersion for faculty and staff (1996) and the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (1983).

So the appointment of a lay person as the president of Gonzaga is a sign of the maturation and progress we have all made in developing a much stronger, more articulate vision of Jesuit education for the 21st century.The Seattle University Trustees have strongly endorsed the leadership of Fr. Steve Sundborg-whom I'm sure they hope will have another 10-year run. Thereafter, we can be confident that whether it's a Jesuit or a lay person, Seattle University will continue to have an outstanding, fresh, expanding and more inclusive Jesuit education, superb in academics, rooted in the Catholic tradition and engaged in energetic ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

© Copyright 2009 Seattle University Spectator

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