"From our origins in 1540 the Society has been officially and solemnly charged with "the defense and the propagation of the faith." In 1995, the Congregation reaffirmed that, for us Jesuits, the defense and propagation of the faith is a matter of to be or not to be, even if the words themselves can change. Faithful to the Vatican Council, the Congregation wanted our preaching and teaching not to proselytize, not to impose our religion on others, but rather to propose Jesus and his message of God's Kingdom in a spirit of love to everyone."
~ Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus
"And make no mistake; it’s difficult to follow in Jesuit footsteps. Case in point: when the great Prep fire happened in the 1960s, then-Principal Father Joe Ayd, SJ went running into the fire to rescue the Blessed Sacrament from the Prep Chapel. This man had devoted his entire life to the Prep mission, his entire calling was St. Joseph’s Prep.
Who of us here would be willing to rush into a burning Prep today to rescue something precious for fear it be lost forever?"
~ Tony Braithwaite's Call to Arms (St. Joseph's Prep)
“The day is coming, and I don’t think there’s any denying it, that there will only be a very few Jesuits here. End of story. Anyone that thinks we’re going to get back to days when we had even 30 Jesuits here is just naïve. I think it’s likely that in my time here…we’ll see only one or two Jesuits here. That’s a fact, and that’s something the school has to wrestle with.”
~ Thomas Brennan, SJ, assistant professor of English at St. Joseph’s University
Some Jesuits approach the challenge of diminishment by suggesting that our task is to communicate the basics of what we're about to our lay colleagues and then disappear. Some who take this approach go so far as to argue that in some cases our lay colleagues understand 'the Jesuit thing' better than we do and can get along just fine without Jesuits around. In my experience, one hurdle that this argument can't overcome is the fact that many laypeople who really get 'the Jesuit thing' actually want us to stick around - they recognize that Jesuits bring something distinctive to the table, and they don't believe that they'll be able to inculcate similar enthusiasm in skeptical or indifferent colleagues without having some actual Jesuits around.
It also bears mentioning that telling prospective Jesuits that our job is to disappear doesn't make for much of a vocation pitch.
~ Joseph Kozera, SJ
One issue, on which Lannon admitted that he was uncertain how to proceed, was the diminishing number of Jesuits and the possibility of future presidents being non-Jesuits or even laypersons. Lannon said that, "We need to assure that there remains a critical mass of Roman Catholics on our faculty and staff while always appreciating the rich contributions that we all make to the mission of this University."
~ Timothy Lannon, SJ
A eventuality that all Jesuit school must face. Can we be "Jesuit", without any, or few Jesuits?
We were reminiscing with Jim Moore, SJ this morning about a time when there was a Jesuit living in every dorm, in every house, at St. Joe's. There was a chapel in each hall, and a Jesuit brother would have the duty to make sure that each was supplied with sacramental wine, hosts, vestments et al. A tradition that is almost all gone now ;-(
We seem to be the generation of Catholics that have the distinction of not building new churches, but closing them down. Not building new high schools, but merging or eliminating them. Of having students today at St. Joe's who have never met a Jesuit, and the spiritual impact that comes with knowing a Jesuit. I agree with Mr. Kozera when he says "telling prospective Jesuits that our job is to disappear doesn't make for much of a vocation pitch."
So our future is uncertain. It may be a battle of wills between Tony Braithwaite's uplifting yet challenging vision of Jesuit-lay collaboration vs Dr. Marty Meloche, who boasted last year that at St. Joe's "we are first and foremost an academic institution." I assume that that whole sticky Catholic/Jesuit part is secondary or tertiary in his mind. He never really did explain.
"What have I done for Christ, what am I doing for Christ, what will I do for Christ? Will the next generation of Hawks be unfamiliar with this Ignatian term.
Hopefully we won't go the way of the atheistic Ivies. I suppose it will depend on many factors. May the Holy Spirit be our guide as as we decide what our future will be on Hawk Hill.
The Hawk - Future St. Joe’s presidents might lack collars
By Sam Koch '11
The decline in Jesuit ordination is on the minds of many Catholic and Jesuit colleges who once relied upon priests and brothers to teach courses, including administrators at St. Joe’s.
At a recent Faculty Senate meeting, President Timothy Lannon, S.J., introduced a three-year plan to reevaluate the Catholic and Jesuit nature of the university. The plan, which is set to begin next year, will take place in three stages meant to address growing concerns over the dwindling numbers of Jesuits, as well as increasing the involvement of laypersons in the mission and identity of St. Joe’s.
“The day is coming, and I don’t think there’s any denying it, that there will only be a very few Jesuits here. End of story,” said Thomas Brennan, S.J., assistant professor in the English department at Saint Joseph’s. “Anyone that thinks we’re going to get back to days when we had even 30 Jesuits here is just naïve. I think it’s likely that in my time here…we’ll see only one or two Jesuits here. That’s a fact, and that’s something the school has to wrestle with.”
According to Lannon, the first year of the plan will involve students, faculty, and staff discussing what it means to be Catholic and Jesuit. The second year will involve “a documented understanding of what we mean by being Catholic and Jesuit at Saint Joseph’s.” Depending on how the first two years of the plan play out, Lannon said that the university will revisit its existing mission statement and possibly create a new one.
For E. Springs Steele, Ph.D., vice president for Mission, Lannon’s three-year plan could help to bridge the gap of understanding among Catholics and non-Catholics at St. Joe’s.
“The generation of this three year project comes from a number of people’s concerns that the richness of this Catholic culture is going to be lost and it needs to be…translated to make sense to students and to our very diverse faculty,” Steele said.
The plan also considers, among other things, the possibility of a layperson as the university’s president in future years. Currently, only five of the 28 Jesuit universities and colleges in the U.S. do not have Jesuits as their presidents. According to Lannon, that number is expected to increase in future years.
“The bottom line is how do I and those of us here [at St. Joe’s] help prepare the community for fewer Jesuits including someday a president who’s not Jesuit,” Lannon said.
But having a Jesuit as the face of Saint Joseph’s University is not paramount to maintaining the Catholic and Jesuit nature of the institution, according to Dennis McNally, S.J., professor of fine arts and president of the Faculty Senate at St. Joe’s. “Things change, you have to deal. Giving up your principles isn’t the same as changing the captain of the ship. It doesn’t mean you jump ship… Giving up the collar on the captain doesn’t mean you’re giving up the ship,” McNally said. “So the ship doesn’t go down with the captain, basically.”
For Lannon, having a layperson in his position as president is an accepted possibility. “I’m biased, of course. I think having a Jesuit president is helpful, but the Board of Trustees has to make that decision. Who’s the most qualified person to lead the university? And in the future it might not be a Jesuit,” Lannon said.
Beyond the position of university president, declining numbers of Jesuit faculty, staff, and administrators also points to a need for increased involvement on the part of laypersons, according to Brennan.
“If this school is going to remain Jesuit and Catholic, that’s now the job of the lay people… And I think you see…that’s already happening,” Brennan said. “I see it working in my faith-justice programs; that’s almost entirely a non-Jesuit operation itself, and I think it should be… That’s the way the future is going to be.”
Underlying these issues of the university’s future are larger concerns about what it actually means to be a Catholic and Jesuit university in the coming decades.
“I think any religious institution, whether it is Catholic or Protestant or Jewish, has to periodically say, ‘Who are we and where we come from and where we’re going?’ because those are healthy questions to ask,” said Patrick Samway, S.J., professor of English at St. Joe’s.
They are questions that are familiar to Steele, who said that the two identities of Saint Joseph’s University—Jesuit and Catholic—are often perceived as being in conflict with one another.
“I think many of us here feel very positive and enthusiastic about the Jesuit…piece because so much of it is connected with care of the person, social justice—I mean, it’s like mom and apple pie. How can you argue with it?” Steele said. “But the Catholic piece… I mean, is there anything there except the rules, the boundaries? Obviously I think there is but my generation has not done a good job of translating that culture, that language.”
For Lannon, conversations about the Jesuit and Catholic nature of the university would hopefully build upon the traditions and identity that is already in place.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re very strong in both Jesuit and Catholic identity. So it’s not so much that I’m worried about today… I’m more worried about the future,” Lannon said.
One concern expressed among some faculty and administrators is what a translation of Catholic identity might look like for St. Joe’s in particular.
“My hope would be less restrictive, but I think to go back is just out of the question,” Brennan said. “The idea that somehow Saint Joseph’s is going to embrace a more conservative Catholicism of a place like Steubenville or even for that matter Catholic University, that’s just unrealistic and it’s foolish. It would be wrong for us.”
Moving forward with conversations, McNally said that the changing climate of Jesuit and Catholic higher education is not an impossible challenge.
“Anytime you’re talking about the ideals of identity for an institution, everybody’s worried that ideas we come out as stated things are going to be lunacy. Of course, everybody’s threatened by rethinking stuff, but if we think a lot and pray a lot, we should come up with something reasonable,” said McNally.
The plan proposed by Lannon is set to take place during a three-year time frame; but many faculty and staff members said that the process would most likely take much longer than that.
“Three years down the road, I expect that we’ll be talking if we’re lucky,” said McNally.