By Joseph DeFeo, Ph.D., Executive Director, Ignatian Colleagues Program

New members of ICP met virtually during their orientation program via Zoom (photo courtesy of Dr. Joseph DeFeo)

New members of ICP met virtually during their orientation program via Zoom (photo courtesy of Dr. Joseph DeFeo)

They say that life happens in between our well-formed plans.

Since its inception twelve years ago, the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP) has provided transformative and engaging in-person experiences that foster discerning leadership for administrators and faculty in Jesuit higher education. But due to the pandemic and the concern for safe travel, our team, like so many of us in higher education, have needed to re-think our program, identify what is most essential, and deliver it in innovative formats.

In any given year, the senior administrators and faculty leaders who participate in ICP have very full calendars. ICP requires a not insignificant investment of time and energy to fully experience each of its components. In non-pandemic times, participants travel to be with colleagues from across the AJCU network for orientation, a silent retreat and an international immersion trip. The value of being together over an extended period of time has helped to build a community of colleagues who are committed to deepening their understanding and experiences of the Ignatian charism, and engaging in opportunities for imaginative and creative thinking about shared challenges in Jesuit higher education. ICP members demonstrate their care for and commitment to our Jesuit and Catholic mission as they offer their valuable time to the program.

So, how did we adapt? First, we restructured our orientation program, reducing a typical four-day gathering over the summer to eight 75-minute Zoom sessions (twice daily over four days). Presenters pre-recorded short videos or provided readings and reflection questions online ahead of each session so that “in-person” Zoom meetings could be used for small and large group discussions. We mourned the reality of not gathering in person, but we also sought to take advantage of what virtual formats do have to offer, such as hosting new speakers (including several Jesuit university presidents) who could be with us without a day of time-consuming travel.

While there was plenty of room for improvement as we adapted to an online orientation, several participants found the experience enriching:

“The discussions in the orientation program allowed us to see how many of us from different institutions are navigating similar challenges, and to think together about how Ignatian principles and processes can help us through these challenges,”

“The nature and sequence of topics and the rich presentations led me to think in new ways it was very illuminating and inspiring!”

One participant described especially well a sentiment held by many over the summer:

“During an unusual and anxious summer, I often felt disconnected from my campus and unsure about how I could contribute to my institutional and programmatic goals from afar… As I read the articles and listened to the guest speakers, I was reminded of all the things that make my work at my institution so rewarding (e.g. serving at a place with a tradition, not just a chronology; working in a space where we have the vocabulary and the imperative to address the major issues confronting our society; being in community with colleagues who can have honest conversations about their insecurities and their aspirations). It really was an inspiring week, and it reenergized me to face the work ahead.”

ICP was already accustomed to using Zoom for its online learning workshops that invite participants, in small groups, to explore readings, podcasts, videos, case studies and reflection questions on themes such as the life of St. Ignatius Loyola, Ignatian pedagogy, Catholic Social Teaching and Ignatian discernment. These workshops are facilitated by leaders who help participants build community by engaging in conversations about how their learning can be applied to common issues and complexities facing our institutions. For example: as our institutions more intentionally increased their awareness and learning about racial injustice, white privilege and diversity, ICP participants also benefited from the wisdom and generosity of approximately twelve chief diversity officers, who helped to facilitate Courageous Conversations: a session on racial inequality and a call to take action.

ICP has taken to Zoom for several other new programs, some content-based, others prayerful/reflective. This fall, we have been building on our discussion that began at orientation on the important influence and role of women in Ignatius’ life, with a session on Ignatian Pedagogy and Feminist Theory in Jesuit Education, led by Julie Dowd, formerly of the University of San Francisco (USF). In December, we will continue our learning and engagement of racial justice through a session on Centering Equity and Anti-Racism in Our Work led by Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, also from USF.

As we anticipate this “new normal” will be with us for some time, it has been important to recognize that our usual short-term solutions (“keep your head down, work hard/er until it’s over and we can get back to the way it used to be”) will not suffice. Learning to accept and embrace this reality, we have sought to offer ways to support those in our program who are struggling to keep our institutions vibrant and afloat. To that end, we have created spaces for short, spirit-lifting communal prayer and reflection. ICP Soul Sessions have been offered every Tuesday at 12 PM and 8 PM (ET) for the months of October and November. Led by different presenters from across the AJCU network, Soul Sessions allows anyone (not just ICP participants) to take a breath, renew and re-energize their spirit for a few minutes before heading back to their busy schedules. Sessions have included the Ignatian Examen, poems, prayer through movement (such as Tai Chi) and more.

In December, we will offer an extended Ignatian Examen on “Looking Back” over the past semester, and a second Examen in January on “Looking Ahead” to new possibilities. By using the Examen, ICP is attempting to model aspects of discerning Ignatian leadership and forming “contemplatives in action,” while providing spaces for participants to rest and renew their spirits.

While we eagerly look forward to the time when we can travel to be in closer contact with one another, we feel grateful for the technology that makes possible the continuity of this important program. Ignatian leaders are called to embrace their current reality as fully as possible, borrowing the wisdom of St. Ignatius, who stated in his Spiritual Exercises that the Exercises “must be adapted to the condition of the one who is to engage them.” (SP Exercises #18). ICP is adapting and adjusting to our current challenging conditions with a joyful hope that meaning and connection can come in surprising ways even as “life happens” in between all our planning.