By Darby Ratliff, Canisius University ‘16, ‘18, Saint Louis University ‘25



When I was finishing my Master’s degree at Canisius University, I worked as a graduate assistant in Campus Ministry where, periodically, I’d enter my office to find a treat or a book from then-Associate Director, Sarah Signorino. Sarah, herself a product of both my undergraduate and graduate programs at Canisius, understood what it was like to balance work and school. Knowing that I was often tired and juggling responsibilities in the office with my Master’s thesis and a part-time job, she was always thinking of me, and it showed in those little gifts.

The small tokens, always accompanied by a note of appreciation, reminded me of what Magis meant. Moving to a student affairs graduate program, after participating in student leadership programs as an undergraduate student, meant that I understood how hard it could be to capture the essence of how students are transformed outside of the classroom by those they encounter. But I think it comes in these little “cannonball moments”: instances of clarity that come into one’s life unexpectedly. Like the injury at the Battle of Pamplona that served as St. Ignatius of Loyola’s impetus for faithful exploration, these moments and little deeds have had a huge impact on me.

Similarly, it is hard for me to explain the depth of the effects that attending Jesuit educational institutions has had on me. I stumbled into them, first discovering what the “Jesuit” part of Walsh Jesuit High School’s name meant shortly before I started there. When it came to college, I more consciously understood what the Jesuit affiliation of schools might look like, by seeing terms like “Magis,” “Cura personalis,” and “people for and with others” printed on admissions materials from Marquette, Xavier, John Carroll, and Canisius, among others. Even just a year ago, my decision to apply to Saint Louis University was a conscious one. Now, I am a part of the only American Studies doctoral program in the Jesuit network, and I knew that I wanted to stay true to my roots in the quality of academic excellence and the qualities of the Ignatian tradition in what I believe will be my last formal educational experience (though who knows what the future will bring).

In my role as a co-director of the Be the Light Youth Theology Institute, a program for high school students administered by Canisius, I was fortunate enough to attend gatherings hosted by the Lilly Endowment and the Forum for Theological Exploration. Post-event surveys always asked what our next most faithful steps were for the Institute. Unknowingly, I feel as though I have been asked a similar question each time I’ve renewed my status as an alumna of a Jesuit institution. It is another way of asking how I am to “go forth and set the world on fire.”

This question has informed the way that I approached my work with students both in the Jesuit-affiliated Be the Light program and in my work at Villa Maria College as a staff member and adjunct professor. How can I bring the Magis to those I encounter? How am I working for justice in and out of the classroom? Even now, I am constantly thinking about how my academic research and encounters with faculty members, colleagues, and friends is informed by and allows me to live out the faith that does justice.

In the epigraph to my Master’s thesis, I quote the source of my great inspiration to study college students’ conceptions of social justice: the 1973 address to Jesuit alumni given by Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (former Superior General of the Society of Jesus), in which he coined the expression, “men [and women] for others.”* More recently, I discovered that this speech was not well-received by alumni, despite the great effect it had on Jesuit educational institutions. I myself had been immediately struck by it, amazed to hear so clearly that education without justice was no education at all. Taking this lens and looking back to answer whether I myself had been educated for justice, I thought of the voices of the marginalized that had been highlighted for me by the faculty of Canisius’ English department; the experiences of immersion that Sarah Signorino and the rest of Campus Ministry had encouraged; and the well-roundedness of the All-College Honors Program’s core curriculum.

The commitment to our values embodied in these experiences illuminated for me the unsung heroes often working with limited budgets and a changing landscape. My Jesuit education means nothing without those who encouraged the Magis in me by showing me the Magis in them: the embodiment of former Jesuit Superior General Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s notion that all educators “help students learn their faith by faithfully expressing [their] own faith through the deeds of [their] lives.”**

When I used to give tours to prospective students at Canisius, I would frequently get asked about my favorite part of the College. I’d first smile and say, “the tunnels,” referring to the small underground loop protecting us to an extent from snowy Buffalo winters. But then I’d add that it was really the people: other students, faculty, and staff members who worked every day to illustrate for me the many ways to embody the Jesuit mission. These same folks are the ones I try to emulate in all that I do. I try to show that graduates of Jesuit schools are the type of people who leave books of poetry on their co-workers’ desks, who are willing to speak truth to power, and who can look inward to ask themselves how they can work for justice and remain true to this special charism that all began with a cannonball.

*Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., “Men for Others” (Speech, Valencia, July 31, 1973), Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies.

**Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., “The Service of Faith in a Religiously Pluralistic World: The Challenge for Jesuit Higher Education,” in A Jesuit Education Reader: Contemporary Writings on the Jesuit Mission in Education, Principles, the Issue of Catholic Identity, Practical Applications of the Ignatian Way, and More, George W. Traub, S.J. (ed). Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008: 168.

Darby Ratliff is a graduate assistant pursuing a Ph.D. in American Studies at Saint Louis University. She served as an intern for the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education last fall, and AJCU this past spring.