Technology lets Americans think the world is small. Fr. Brad Schaeffer, SJ, head of the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C., exhorts Jesuits to recognize how big it is.
“Be apostolically rooted in a way that does not weaken the universal character of our call and service,” he proclaims to them.
Jesuits enter a worldwide Society of Jesus and “must foster universalism in candidates at each stage of formation and in ongoing formation.”
So Jesuits are expected to become facile with another language, to go on mission to another culture, and, in governance, to develop a social and global network through the twinning of provinces worldwide.
“Jesuits don't just join a province,” Schaeffer emphasizes. “They should be ready to go anywhere the Society wants to send them.”
Schaeffer speaks strongly about the importance of Jesuit availability to the ten provincials who, along with him, make up the Jesuit Conference board. He has reinforced its importance through his participation in a number of Jesuit province retreats and convocations.
“No matter what ministry we are talking about,” says Schaeffer, “the Jesuit has to think in universal terms. And that thinking has to be in line with the Church.”
All this is to say that Schaeffer is looking to the future and what the Society of Jesus has to face in the next few years. He's concerned that Jesuits need to know who they are and what the Society and Church expect of them if they are to serve successfully. So what can the available Jesuit look forward to?
Fr. David Haschka, SJ, who oversees the Office of Pastoral Ministries at the Jesuit Conference, an office that supports Jesuit parishes and retreat centers in the United States, thinks lay collaboration and the pursuit of excellence must be emphasized in parishes and retreat work.
Haschka, a former pastor who frequently gives weekend retreats at Jesuit retreat houses, has also convened the houses' directors to coordinate the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises. He is a frequent visitor to individual Jesuit parishes throughout the country as well.
“We want to better prepare those Jesuits who will enter this work and to develop non-Jesuit partners who can effectively contribute to and even direct the Jesuit parochial mission,” Haschka says. “In the not-too-distant future there may be historically Jesuit parishes led by lay pastoral administrators supported by Jesuit sacramental ministers.”
Similarly at Jesuit retreat and spirituality centers, more and more qualified lay people will carry on and even direct the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises. The emphasis of the last 30 years has been giving the full Spiritual Exercises in its customary 30-day retreat format or as a retreat in daily life, in which an individual retreatant meets with a spiritual director weekly over a period of many months. But that has been changing lately.
“As we enter the 21st century,” Haschka explains, “were again rediscovering the value of the Exercises by seeking ways to make some graces of the Exercises both attractive and available to the broader population of Catholics and other Christians. Not everyone is called to the full 30-day Exercises. But they can be adapted so that ones' prayer life and sense of peace can be strengthened.”
Another growing dimension to retreat ministry is one targeting those in their 20s and 30s. Fr. Michael Sparough, SJ, director of Charis Ministries in Chicago, aims at getting young adults interested in retreats.
Among Charis programs is a Seekers retreat for young people searching for faith. Thats level one. A second level retreat is more Christological, Sparough explains. Who do you say I am? Who is Jesus in my life? The third level retreat is Choosing to be Catholic. Charis also offers retreats on Catholic social teaching as well as on addiction and spirituality. One unique feature of Charis is its Chicago location at Loyola University, home to the largest philosophy program operated for Jesuit scholastics. Charis offers an internship in spiritual direction for them, many of whom become spiritual directors for young adults in the area.
Quoting Catholic journalist Peter Steinfels, author of A People Adrift, Sparough claims a critical issue for the future is how we relate to the next generation of Catholics and how we pass along the faith to them. Sparough believes there are lots of ways that can happen.
“At Charis,” he says, “we don't need to reinvent the wheel. What has been working for the last twenty years is the Kairos model in high schools. Charis is Kairos adopted for young adults.”
Still another concern of Jesuits for the future is social ministry. Fr. Jim Stormes, SJ, Secretary for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference, says that this course set by the Jesuits 32nd general congregation in 1974–1975 is still being followed today.
“The justice aspects of our faith are part of all the ministries of the Society,” he observes. “But the future lies in the always difficult task of linking and coordinating the various areas of the social apostolate so they can be most effective. For example, how do our social research centers like the Woodstock Center relate to the direct outreach that a Jesuit parish might provide to the homeless? How does the social research that a Jesuit university conducts relate to a service project performed in our Jesuit high schools?
The Society in the United States is also present internationally, but its focus has shifted over the years from beginning evangelization to assisting the ongoing work of the Society by playing to the particular strengths of different geographical regions. Here social ministry talks about exchanging ideas and programs, sharing resources like personnel and money, and twinning provinces. Jesuits from Oregon, who have staffed ministries in Zambia for a number of years, have recently “twinned” with the province of Colombia, assisting its development through exchanges of manpower and visits by lay collaborators. The agreement will ultimately encompass Jesuits in training traveling both directions for language study and also exchanges of Jesuit high school and college students and faculty from both countries.
The very structure of the Jesuit Conference itself has been redeveloped to coordinate the Society's works around the world. This promises more effective collaboration across the universal Society.
But Schaeffer believes the strong individualism of American Jesuits can hurt this effectiveness. “It's in our nature,” he says, “as males, as Jesuits, as Americans. We are ten provinces with rich traditions, histories, and cultures. And we live and work in support of and as a part of the U.S. Church with all its challenges.”
Worldwide, Jesuits number right around 20,400, down about 15,000 from 1965. While vocations to the Society are up in Africa, for instance, and India, the 3,300 Jesuits in the United States are down from their 8,500 counterparts in 1965.
Given the diminishment of manpower, how must Jesuit provinces in the United States restructure themselves in order to accomplish the challenges of mission from the Society? How will Jesuit communities realign themselves to make the best use of manpower? And how will Jesuit institutions find new leaders? The key is in planning and in collaboration in many different forms.
“In higher education weve begun to work more collaboratively among the institutions, especially within certain regions,” Schaeffer explains. “Mission and identity issues are now front and center. We've begun a training program with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities for higher education leaders and administrators.
“Lay leaders are part of the future of Jesuit ministry,” he says, “but for one thing, lay leaders have to become familiar with the traditions of the specific mission at this particular school or work, but also with the larger mission of the Society of Jesus. In some sense they have to know our histories, our stories, our traditions. The best way of doing that for me is to make the Exercises in some fashion.”
They also have to be able to pray. “We expect and we need our lay trustees to be women and men of prayer and women and men of the Church. We also need people of various faith traditions who join us and we need them to help us try to find God in the mix of the particular board on which each serves. So it's the mission, and it's the larger mission, if you will, of the Church as a mission for prayer. In addition, we need their competence, their love, wisdom and work, their expertise, and their reflectiveness on the world.” Lay board members have to pay attention to how a particular institution is going to relate to the Society of Jesus formally and institutionally, says Schaeffer. “That's important because the Society blesses it and puts its name on it and endorses it to the wider Church.”
Fr. Joe O'Connell, SJ, is the executive director of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA), which is a coordinating body for the 46 Jesuit high schools in the United States, whose total enrollment in recent years tops 42,000.
“The schools are a phenomenal success,” he asserts. “They thrive with a lively appreciation of how Jesuit mission and Ignatian vision are vital to what it means to an educational apostolate of the Society of Jesus.”
He also believes Jesuit high schools will face many challenges in the 21st century. Affordability and accessibility are two of them as well as the urgent need to identify, train, and mentor a new generation of Jesuit school leaders. “Possibly the greatest challenge for any institution,” he muses, “is to avoid complacency, to be dissatisfied with the status quo.”
JSEA has developed “2020 Vision,” a planning guide that suggests over 50 specific challenges Jesuit schools need to address in the future. Among them, according to O'Connell, is the Jesuit schools' need to reexamine current notions of success as influenced by the larger culture.
“We need to build time into the school day for reflection and discernment and to integrate Catholic social teaching into school formational programs,” he says, admitting that this is still a goal, but one already achieved at Marquette High in Milwaukee, which boasts a daily five-minute period of silence conducted throughout the school.
“A reporter from a local paper came to visit the school in disbelief,” O'Connell says. “No school could hold five minutes of silence, he thought.”
Standards of belief and behavior of the Catholic Church must be articulated in ways that high school students can grasp. It is also important to prepare faculty, staff, and students to become change agents working for peace and justice in the world. This is accomplished in part through the Seminars on Ignatian Leadership, which JSEA sponsors several times a year throughout the country. High school staffs come together to learn more about Ignatian ideals and practical efforts to implement them.
It is also our task, O'Connell stresses, to form leaders who will be moral, spiritual, and discerning decision makers. “We also have to encourage collaborative learning with others outside the school community and counteract tendencies toward isolationism and inbreeding.” He points out that Steve Phelps, director of professional development at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco, has organized a highly successful relationship with the public schools in the Bay Area to do this.
In addition to expanding college preparatory curricula to include methods of reflection and discernment, Jesuit high schools need to create new learning cultures in which students gain the skills to become lifelong learners and schools become learning centers for both teachers and students.
O'Connell thinks it may be time for Jesuits to articulate a new vision of the apostolate of Jesuit education in the United States, one that sees an integral connection between the work of pre-secondary and college preparatory and even tertiary schooling.
Fr. Tom Widner, SJ, is the Secretary for Communications at the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C.
“Perhaps we might look at how students, administrators, teachers, and board members of our more-traditional Jesuit schools might serve as leaders, teachers, and mentors in servicing the educational as well as formational needs of students, faculty, staffs, and boards of burgeoning Catholic and Jesuit middle schools and similar educational ventures that reach out to poor, marginalized, and disadvantaged youth.”
In so many ways the future is bearing down on the Jesuit ministries in the United States. How well the Society of Jesus responds to its challenges will determine its place in that future.