In an address now famous among Jesuit university colleagues, former Superior General Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, S.J., asserted: “ …the measure of Jesuit universities is not what our students do but who they become, and the adult Christian responsibility they will exercise in future towards their neighbor and their world.” Father General was not dismissing the importance of tangible and specific graduate outcomes. I think he was reminding those of us who work in Jesuit universities that transcending the obvious and ordinary objectives of higher education, for the purpose of ensuring that our graduates understand their obligation to serve the world, is both a perpetual challenge and a necessary criterion of Jesuit mission effectiveness and success.
All around us, we see pervasive and inescapable evidence of human suffering. Armed conflicts in places such as Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and even Eastern Europe have resulted in hundreds of thousands living displaced in refugee camps, within or outside the borders of their former homes. Millions continue to suffer daily with the effects of HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa – among them huge numbers of orphaned children. Systemic societal failures affect the lives and educational prospects of hundreds of thousands of children in our own nation.
For many people, the easiest way of coping with these overwhelming realities is to avert one’s gaze, selectively tuning in to those things that serve to oblique one’s view or divert one’s attention. Even in this generous nation of ours, this response is both widespread and understandable.
In the face of life’s realities, faculty and staff at Jesuit universities have an obligation to continually challenge their students – not only in the theoretical discussions, but also to engage and grapple with the real issues of life. The human experience is filled with joy and wonder, reflecting as in a mirror that which is the grandeur of God; but it too is filled with pain and hardship, messy and gritty and disordered. The process of helping students understand what God wants for them demands engaging in work that wrestles with the profound, timeless and complex issues of human existence – and challenges them to discover within the person they are to become.
Over the years and through generations of Gonzaga graduates, a consistent pattern has expressed itself. It begins with women and men who arrive with open, curious and generous hearts and minds; along the course of their studies and experiences, they discover that a part of God’s plan for them involves deepening and broadening their understanding of the true nature of human life and existence.
As part of this experience, Gonzaga has a long history of sponsoring international study, beginning with Gonzaga-in-Florence, Gonzaga-in-Paris and several co-sponsored programs in other countries. Over the past several years, we have sought to increase the opportunities for our students to encounter people and cultures very different from their own – both abroad, and on campus. Visiting international scholars, summer faculty-led study abroad experiences, and invited speakers addressing extraordinary humanitarian challenges are all part of this initiative.
In recognition of this commitment, the Opus Foundation – an organization dedicated to the recognition and support of faith-based humanitarian entrepreneurs around the world – selected Gonzaga as the host of its 14th Annual Opus Prize Ceremony. As significant as the $1 million first-prize award will be, the longer term impact of the process for identifying, selecting and vetting the finalists already has been profound. As part of the finalists’ review, teams of Gonzaga students, faculty and staff traveled to each of the three places where these amazing, humbling people work – India, New York and Thailand – to see first-hand both the suffering and the healing power of people committed to making a difference in the lives of those whom they serve.
The Hemmingson Center – our new “COG” which will open for Fall 2015 – will be a beautiful, living representation of the importance of global awareness for Gonzaga. Internally, it will house our new Center for Global Engagement, which includes International Students Services and Study Abroad offices. On the exterior, it will feature an inscription taken from our current Superior General, Adolfo Nicolás, with whom I have had the privilege of meeting on two occasions these past three years. This quote underscores our Jesuit commitment to serve others, cognizant of our membership in the worldwide community.
Over the course of time, and through many opportunities to be with our students and alumni, I am humbled by the significant things that they do and have done. In honoring our Jesuit charism and the legacy of our alumni, we are committed to inspire in our students the discovery of their faith through the magis, the “ever greater good.” Let us always be people who care deeply about what our students do with their Gonzaga education, and who they become as a result of it.