By Mr. Lucas Sharma, S.J., Jesuit Scholastic, Jesuits West Province of the Society of Jesus
As a graduate of three Jesuit universities, I say with deep gratitude that Jesuit higher education has been transformative in how I view myself, my relationship with God, with others, and the world. I was a newcomer to both the Society of Jesus and to Jesuit education when I began as a freshman at Gonzaga University in 2005. Gonzaga opened me to a faith that does justice and led me down a path of many Jesuit institutions toward a vocation with the Jesuits West Province. Now working at Seattle University, I have been blessed to have the opportunity to work on two publications associated with the Jesuits: Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education and The Jesuit Post. Each respectively, I believe, provide both formation opportunities for young Jesuits and resources for each of us working in Jesuit higher education.
Sponsored by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) and the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education is a publication that releases two volumes per year, corresponding to the start of the fall and spring semesters. Each volume highlights a given theme or concern related to Jesuit education today. Articles are written by faculty, staff, students and alumni across the AJCU network, and reviewed by the members of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education.
Our last issue, “Sanctuary for Truth and Justice,” highlighted the work that people are doing to promote the message that Jesuit colleges and universities stand on the side of a faith that does justice and against the current climate of political instability. The current issue, “University Engaging Its Location,” asks questions about the relationship between Jesuit mission and neighborhood location. In addition to the print publication, the Conversations website features additional articles, videos, book reviews and news from various Jesuit colleges and universities.
Each fall and spring semester, when the print copies are distributed, many Jesuit colleges and universities use the magazine to engage faculty and staff in further mission and identity formation. For example, Seattle University recently used an article by noted racial justice scholar and theologian, Rev. Bryan Massingale of Fordham University, for a lunch discussion. Discussants reflected on their own roles at the University, and described the consolations and desolations observed in its efforts to combat racism. Table conversation followed, prompting attendees to reflect on their own sentiments in racial justice work and how that connects to the mission of Jesuit education. The newest issue will hopefully prompt faculty and staff to examine critically their roles and relationships with the neighborhoods of which they are members.
In 2012, at about the time I concluded a degree program at Loyola University Chicago, several young Jesuits-in-Formation came up with a creative venture to engage young people online: The Jesuit Post (TJP). Through articles written by young Jesuits on topics of popular culture, sports, current events and spirituality, TJP aims to help young Jesuits communicate with the public in an informal way, similar to how people in our peer group might talk to each other in person. TJP also shapes the Jesuits-in-Formation themselves, as they learn how to work on a team and write in concise ways as members of the Society of Jesus.
The Jesuit Post’s diversity of writers and topics offers resources for personal reflection as well as classroom and co-curricular content for students at Jesuit institutions. For example, last summer, TJP ran a series called “Letters for the Weary” in which five authors recalled how teaching inside the classroom and going on immersion trips helped them to discern critical issues of our time: race, privilege and solidarity. Other recent articles include a review of Sam Smith’s latest album and a reflection on the struggles of making new friends when we move.
Our Jesuit colleges and universities face pressures to compete in the market of higher education, and are often torn between answering neoliberal concerns and standing behind the core mission of Jesuit education – to form women and men for and with others, dedicated to the common good and the greater glory of God. In a recent article for the Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, the legendary Jesuit historian, Rev. John W. O’Malley, S.J., argued that we fulfill this mission when our students are able to “escape from the bondage of unexamined assumptions and prejudices,” thus asking questions about what it means to be a human person engaged in the world. Publications like Conversations and The Jesuit Post serve as important tools for each of us as we grapple with how we might form in this very mission. And for us Jesuits-in-Formation, we are made better Jesuits when in relationship with our lay colleagues.
Mr. Lucas Sharma, S.J. is a Jesuit-in-Formation of the Jesuits West Province. He has received a Bachelor’s degree from Gonzaga University (2009), a Master’s in Sociology from Loyola University Chicago (2012), and a Master’s in Philosophy from Fordham University (2017). Lucas currently works as a Lecturer in Sociology at Seattle University, where he also serves as a Research Fellow in the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture. Lucas is the Web Editor for Conversations in Jesuit Higher Education and the Pop Culture Editor for The Jesuit Post.