In May 2021, Jesuit institutions, parishes and organizations across the world began a 14-month celebration of the Ignatian Year: the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius Loyola’s conversion. In this month’s issue of Connections, we take a look at how it has been celebrated on Jesuit campuses here in the United States.

At Xavier University, the Ignatian Year inspired the theme for the inauguration of Dr. Colleen Hanycz: the first woman and first lay person to serve as Xavier’s president. At Loyola University Maryland, the office of mission and the department of communications joined together to launch a special podcast featuring interviews and reflections on the Ignatian Year with members of the Loyola community. At Creighton University, the anniversary coincided with the University’s pursuit of a new elective classification in Leadership for Public Purpose through the Carnegie Foundation. And at Loyola Marymount University and Rockhurst University, the Ignatian Year has guided both students and Jesuits themselves toward conversion and growth in faith and spirituality.

Not only can you read about these stories in this last issue of Connections for the academic year, but you can also learn ways to tell your own Ignatian Year story from a new book by Eric Clayton, deputy communications director for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. Eric previews the book, Cannonball Moments, and explains how he first came to understand Ignatian spirituality during his sophomore year at Fairfield University.

The Ignatian Year will conclude on July 31, but the story of Ignatius’ conversion will continue to guide us in our lives and in our work. As Pope Francis said:

“In this pilgrimage on earth we meet others, as Ignatius did in his life. These others are signs that help us to stay on course and who invite us to convert again and again. They are brothers, they are situations, and God also speaks to us through them. Listen to others. Read situations. We are road signs for others, we too, showing God’s way. Conversion is always done in dialogue, in dialogue with God, in dialogue with others, in dialogue with the world.” (America: May 24, 2021)

We hope that you continue to be inspired by the Ignatian Year, and that you have a healthy, happy and safe summer!

By Deanna Howes Spiro, Vice President of Communications, AJCU

Xavier President Dr. Colleen Hanycz (photo courtesy of Xavier University)


When Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola was struck by a cannonball on May 20, 1521, it set into motion a transformation from a life of vanity to a life of service to God. More than five centuries later, the Ignatian Year provides us with a reminder to transform our lives just as St. Ignatiuse Loyola did: to forsake the superficial and to “see all things new in Christ.”

Throughout this past academic year, Jesuit colleges and universities worked to weave into their core messages the themes of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20, 2021, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ “cannonball moment,” and concludes on July 31, 2022, the feast day of St. Ignatius.

Xavier University, for example, made the Ignatian Year the main theme of its Presidential Inauguration in October 2021 for Colleen Hanycz, Ph.D:, the first woman and layperson to serve as president in the University’s history. Inspired by this theme, the events leading up to Hanycz’s inauguration highlighted Xavier’s Jesuit tradition of cultivating lives of reflection, compassion and informed action while marking the anniversary of St. Ignatius’ injury.

“Drawing upon our Ignatian values, we encourage our students to treat those around them as subjects – not objects – developing relationships across our communities that will last a lifetime,” Hanycz said in her inaugural address. “We model for them holistic care for the entire person – cura personalis – calling them to care for one another, as we care for them, in mind, body and spirit, and inviting them to encounter something bigger than themselves.”

While a key aspect of the Ignatian Year is honoring the past, equally important is the call to be future-focused. A particularly impactful theme of the Ignatian Year that applies directly to higher education is “from profession to purpose,” inviting students to reflect more deeply on their vocation and how they can best use their talents to serve the world’s greatest needs.

Photo courtesy of Xavier University


While considering this plethora of needs can seem daunting, the Society of Jesus’ four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) serve as guideposts in addressing today’s challenges. Established in 2019 and guiding our attention through 2029, the UAPs are:

In the spirit of the Ignatian Year, these preferences aim to help us create positive change in the world. For example, the UAP of “caring for our common home,” can be seen in Xavier employees and students intent on improving sustainability in Greater Cincinnati and beyond. This spring, a group of Xavier faculty, staff and students have been embarking on field trips around the area to learn about sustainability practices, reducing waste, alternatives to consumerism, and the natural world around us.

“It’s really powerful from a Jesuit perspective to talk about caring for our common home, because it is ultimately that which sustains us,” said Clare Burke Ravizza, a 2022 Xavier graduate who served on the University’s Sustainability Committee as an intern. “The natural world gives us the food we eat, the sun we need, the air we breathe. All of these ecosystem services allow us to live the lives that we lead.”

Leading up to the Ignatian Year’s conclusion, the Jesuit community can continue – as Jesuit Superior General Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J. urged in his 2019 letter calling for the Ignatian Year – to “be inspired to have the openness of heart that we need to receive the Holy Spirit, who wants to gift us the audacity of the impossible.”

To help inspire further reflection, prayers for the Ignatian Year are available through Xavier University’s

Contributed by the Office of Marketing and Communications at Xavier University

Photo courtesy of Loyola University Maryland


As the Ignatian Year was beginning last summer, Paola Pascual-Ferrá, Ph.D. knew that she wanted to mark this special celebration in some way. She had participated in the Spiritual Exercises before, but as a busy faculty member and the mother of two young children, she wasn’t sure this was the time to undertake them again.

“I asked myself, ‘What can I do that would honor this year and be meaningful and fun?’” said Pascual-Ferrá, associate professor of communication at Loyola University Maryland. She thought of Seán Bray, assistant vice president for mission at Loyola. “I love Seán’s energy and his presence. I thought that the best part of the Spiritual Exercises is having spiritual conversations with other people. If I cannot commit wholly to the Exercises at this time, at least I can do something like this and be creative.”

Together, Pascual-Ferrá and Bray launched a podcast called This Ignatian Year with the goal of providing listeners with an experience that facilitates healing, reflection, and a chance to be closer to God through conversation with others. Bray said, “We asked ourselves how we might journey through this year, be reflective, and detach from what distracts us while paying attention to what excites us, what challenges us, what gives us hope.”

The podcast has offered an opportunity for the Loyola community to reflect together on all that transpired when St. Ignatius was wounded by a cannonball 500 years ago. “St. Ignatius Loyola had to recover from his wound physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” said Bray. “His story is so human. How he goes through his recovery process is so graceful, and I think everyone can learn something from his recovery, regardless of their own faith tradition.”

Bray and Pascual-Ferrá hoped that the podcast would begin and extend conversations for individuals and the campus community. “We have all been faced with cannonball moments, especially recently with the pandemic and social and racial justice issues across the globe,” said Pascual-Ferrá. “This podcast is so timely and relevant. As a university, many of our colleagues have struggled with balancing work and their personal lives. I thought this would be a good time to dive into these conversations and walk with St. Ignatius this year.”

Paola Pascual-Ferrá & Seán Bray (Photo courtesy of Loyola University Maryland


The podcast, which was launched in August 2021, features episodes with Bray, Pascual-Ferrá, and a different member of the Loyola community as a guest who shares how they weave Jesuit and Ignatian themes into their daily lives, offering reflection and inspiration to listeners.

Recent episodes have focused on prayer, cultivating a hope-filled future, faith and imagination, leading with trust and love, and Magis, among others. Guests on the podcast have included Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., associate professor of law and social responsibility and director of the office of mission integration; Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D., NCC, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs; and President Terrence M. Sawyer, J.D., who became the university’s 25th president in January, among others.

Pascual-Ferrá, who will literally walk in the footsteps of St. Ignatius when she participates in an Ignatian pilgrimage this summer, said she wanted to create this podcast as a way to feel more connected to her colleagues at Loyola. “I found this podcast to be very meaningful to me,” she said. “Being able to spend that hour really getting to know my colleagues was very spiritual. I’m not sure I would have had that opportunity outside of this project.”

While collaborating on the podcast, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá had no trouble finding ideas for guests and topics while honoring and celebrating Loyola’s Jesuit mission—and paying tribute to Loyola’s patron and namesake—during the Ignatian Year. “When you have these conversations, it is truly at the heart of Ignatian work,” said Bray. “I walked away from recording each episode feeling so alive and joyful for the time we had, and the willingness of our colleagues to share in intimate moments around Loyola’s mission.”

With seven episodes recorded so far, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá have received positive feedback from listeners. “What was really fascinating to me was hearing from new employees at Loyola,” said Bray. “[They could] learn about our mission and hear from colleagues in a new way. We hope our podcast provides a sense of spiritual direction, and we have received a lot of gratitude from our community so far.”

As the celebration of the Ignatian Year concludes on July 31, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá plan to prepare additional episodes through the end of July. They also hope to engage listeners by encouraging them to produce their own recordings and have them share the graces they experienced throughout the Ignatian Year.

In addition to the podcast, Loyola has offered many diverse opportunities for the Loyola community to celebrate the Ignatian Year, including lectures, panel discussions, and events. Topics of discussion highlighted women in Jesuit education, Jesuit Refugee Service, and Jesuits from around the world involved with international education, among others.

During the month of March, Bray and other university faculty, staff, and administrators co-hosted Ignatian Learning Groups, which focused on exploring the life of St. Ignatius, the Jesuits, and Ignatian themes through different cohorts whose members read a selected text and participated in weekly group discussions. And in October, students, faculty, staff, and administrators enjoyed celebrating St. Ignatius’ birthday on the Academic Quadrangle.

As the conclusion of the Ignatian Year draws near, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá are hoping that listeners and colleagues have gained a sense of comfort and connection to the Loyola community and to God—and a desire to continue growing in their spiritual journey.

“There is always a need for healing,” said Pascual-Ferrá. “This is just one way to make time for a relationship with God and others.”

By Molly Robey, Assistant Director of Communication, Loyola University Maryland

Emily Dickson (photo courtesy of Rockhurst University)  

The story of St. Ignatius Loyola’s conversion from soldier to saint begins with a moment, and not a particularly quiet one. St. Ignatius was wounded gravely on the battlefield in Pamplona, Spain by a cannonball: an event that kickstarted the long recovery during which he would read, reflect, and eventually put down his sword to start the Society of Jesus.

It was in that moment of crisis that St. Ignatius felt compelled to devote his life to serve others. And while the moment was devoid of booming sounds, for one Rockhurst University student, the realization to serve others similarly hit her like a cannonball.

Raised as a Unitarian Universalist in St. Louis, MO, Emily Dickson had an interest in exploring and learning about religious traditions outside of her own, finding herself especially drawn to Jesuit institutions for their values and approach to education as she was making her college decision.

“I applied to tons of Jesuit schools but ended up choosing Rockhurst because I received an athletic scholarship to run cross country, and I love Kansas City,” she said. “I also met so many great students and staff on my visits—I could tell Rockhurst was a close-knit community.”

Upon arrival Dickson, a nursing major, became deeply interested in the Jesuit mission and core values. She said the Catholic social teaching course taught by President Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., was particularly instrumental in helping her understand how the Catholic, Jesuit tradition was steeped in care for one another and our shared home — and how it was about more than prayer.

“Rev. James Martin, S.J. talks about how Ignatian spirituality invites us to become contemplatives in action,” Dickson said. “Being contemplative is to live a life of immersion in prayer, reflection and discernment — something I thought was only for cloistered monks and nuns. St. Ignatius was revolutionary in that he called regular Christians to do both — be contemplatives, but live lives of action too.”

She soon became an indelible part of that campus community that had so impressed her during her college search, with participation in campus organizations including Voices for Justice, campus ambassadors and Gamma Phi Beta. Cross country provided even more connections, including a close friendship with teammate Samantha Zech. They motivated each other to perform and together coached a track team at a local school through the national organization, Girls on the Run. They even successfully secured grant funding and sponsorships to pay for the team’s uniforms together.

But in October 2020, Zech was diagnosed with cancer. The moment was one that would change Dickson’s life. “I doubted God’s existence,” she said. “I was angry at God for the first time in my life.”

It was a realization that could send one hurtling toward desolation — a fate that Dickson herself feared at the time. She turned, as she often did, to prayer. In a quiet moment on an early morning in March 2021, she said, it brought her to her own “cannonball moment.”

“It was 2:00AM and I was praying for my patients in the dark, as I often do. As a nurse intern and as a person from a multi-faith background, I also pray for God to light my way,” she explained. “That night, I was moved in an instant to convert to Catholicism, as I received a revelation of Christ’s life, passion, and death for me and all humanity. It was at that point, after tentatively asking for the intercession of Mary and St. Agatha (a patron saint of nurses), that I believe God came to prepare me for great loss.”

It would come two months later in May 2021, when Zech would pass away, with Dickson holding her hand. She turned, once again, to her faith and to her community as she continued to grieve and to complete her conversion to the Catholic faith. During the Easter Vigil Mass this spring at St. Francis Xavier Church (the Jesuit parish across the street from the Rockhurst campus), Dickson and another student completed the rite of confirmation.

For a journey that began in a moment of sorrow, it was a joyous occasion. “I was surrounded by other Catholic students and supportive staff at both Rockhurst and St. Francis Xavier parish,” Dickson said. “My friends of all faiths were so excited for my confirmation, and people I don’t even know have come up to congratulate me! I think Rockhurst is such a spiritually welcoming place to students of all faiths; what is important here is that you feel comfortable connecting to something bigger than yourself to help you through life’s challenges and joys.”

But it’s far from the end of the story. Like St. Ignatius and the Jesuits who followed, Dickson said that she believes her Catholic identity calls her to action. Alongside her epiphany of faith, she said, was a revelation that she is called to teach. So, while she will be working as a bone marrow transplant nurse at Nebraska Medical Center and living in Omaha, NE, following graduation, she will also participate in a nursing program sponsored by the GIVEN Catholic Women’s Leadership Forum. And Dickson said she hopes to one day use her experience as a caregiver to prepare nurses in a way that is sensitive to and reflects the needs of the communities that they will be serving.

“We need change,” she said.

By Tim Linn, Assistant Director of University Relations, Rockhurst University

Creighton University is capping off the Ignatian Year by undergoing a university-wide self-study of its efforts to develop leaders in the tradition inspired by St. Ignatius Loyola.

At its root, Ignatian-inspired leadership development provides a structure and context for people to learn more about themselves and those they serve. Fostering Ignatian-inspired leadership is at the core of Creighton’s mission in myriad ways, particularly in the development of students – both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Ignatian leadership does not begin from anything other than our relationship to God,” says Tom Kelly, Ph.D., professor of theology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It is not based on outcomes or money gained. One can be immensely successful according to the dictates of the ‘world,’ but if we lack love, what does it benefit us? This is our driving question in Ignatian leadership.”

Creighton recently completed the successful pilot application process for a new elective classification in Leadership for Public Purpose through the Carnegie Foundation. Now, the University is embarking upon the rigorous self-study as the next step in the classification process. Creighton was among just thirteen universities invited to participate in the pilot application process.

The new Carnegie elective classification will recognize colleges and universities for leadership for “public purpose,” meaning how well they prepare educated, engaged graduates who contribute to the public good in their careers, communities and broader society.

Jennifer Moss Breen, Ph.D., associate professor in the Interdisciplinary Leadership doctoral program, is leading Creighton’s self-assessment in the year-long application process.

“Students who choose to attend a Jesuit institution may be familiar with the Jesuit mission, but it is just as likely that the Ignatian tradition or Ignatian leadership style are completely unfamiliar to them,” she says. “Some students may be surprised with discussions that, on the surface, seem to not contribute toward advancing in their chosen field. They might even present a sort of ‘push back’ when discussions of faith, St. Ignatius or spirituality are meshed with concrete knowledge and the application of field-based topics.”

But when lessons are created and delivered in a manner akin to that of St. Ignatius, which asks faculty to adapt to the needs of students, she says that students see Jesuit education in “a new light.” Students have many opportunities to engage with, and be curious about, leading in a manner like St. Ignatius. “It only requires one short step toward this curiosity and, suddenly, the desire to grow in Ignatian spirituality and Ignatian leadership is fostered,” says Moss Breen.

A primary component in Creighton’s Ignatian-inspired programs – including those in the undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, student advising, and programs through the divisions of Mission and Ministry and Student Life – is reflection, just as it was for St. Ignatius and his followers.

Photo courtesy of Creighton University  

Before, during and after experiences that promote Ignatian-inspired student leadership development, students are asked to reflect: to look within themselves for the movements of God. Faculty and staff who work with the students also engage in the same type of reflection. For example, Nicole Piemonte, Ph.D., assistant dean of student affairs for the medical school on Creighton’s health sciences campus in Phoenix, and assistant professor of medical humanities, says that written personal reflections are embedded throughout the medical school curriculum.

“I spend time discussing with students the idea that being a future Creighton doctor means being an advocate for the marginalized, underserved and disenfranchised, in addition to being a competent and compassionate clinician,” Piemonte explains.

In the Heider College of Business, the mission statement and entire undergraduate curriculum, called the Heider Mindset, are shaped by Ignatian values. The mission statement reads: “Guided by our Jesuit heritage, we form leaders who promote justice and use their business knowledge to improve the world.”

“We want our graduates to see business as an opportunity to be for and with others, and to seek justice, especially for the poor and marginalized,” says Matt Seevers, Ph.D., professor of marketing and associate dean for undergraduate programs. “We want our students to see leadership in business as an opportunity not just for personal gain, but to be an instrument to positively transform society.”

“Who our students are becoming as people matters just as much as who they are becoming as physicians,” says Piemonte of the medical school. “We are committed to their character formation and virtue development so that our students can continue to grow into people who advocate for and care well for patients when they need it the most.”

She explains that Creighton medical students are being prepared to be leaders who expect more from the health care system: “Leaders who believe that actions should be aligned with values and that patients should always be at the center of every decision.”

One graduate thoroughly steeped in Ignatian leadership principles is Charles Thomas Jr., Ed.D., who holds two degrees from Creighton: a Master’s in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution and a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Leadership. Thomas is CEO and co-founder of Clear Cloud, a cloud engineering company that offers specialized cloud services to intelligence community customers.  He says that he finds Ignatian-based leadership training has served him well, largely because of “three salient components” or Ignatian principles:

Thomas adds, “Leading is not about telling people what to do. It is about creating a vision, being thoughtful, leading by example, and pursuing excellence as a demonstration of human potential.”

By Cindy Murphy McMahon, Associate Director of Communications, Creighton University

All photos courtesy of Creighton University.

Rev. Edward Siebert, S.J. (photo courtesy of Loyola Marymount University)


On May 20, 2021, the Society of Jesus began the celebration of the Ignatian Year. On that date 500 years ago, St. Ignatius Loyola was wounded by a cannonball while defending Pamplona, Spain. From his perspective, it seemed like a failure—yet it forever changed the course of his life. This moment started a process of conversion that led St. Ignatius to have bigger dreams, no longer centered on himself, but rather on God.

To celebrate the Ignatian Year, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) has been honoring St. St. Ignatius in a variety of ways. Below is a conversation with the rector of LMU’s Jesuit Community, Rev. Edward Siebert, S.J., who reflects on this past year.

What did the Jesuits do to celebrate the Ignatian Year?
Rev. Edward Siebert, S.J.: It started in May with a Mass in the Jesuit Community to kick off the celebration. We had prayer cards made and distributed across campus. Rev. Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J., a Jesuit psychologist from Creighton University in Omaha, came to speak to us about racism and spirituality. That was a big moment for us because we wanted to tie in anti-racism with Ignatian spirituality. We also had Rev. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, come for the Casassa Lecture in March. His most recent book is The Pope and the Pandemic: Lessons in Leadership in a Time of Crisis (Orbis 2021).

Did you do anything for the Ignatian Year that focused on students?
November is Ignatian Heritage Month on campus every year, so we focused many of our efforts during that month. We had a Jesuit open house where we brought students into our community to talk about cannonball moments in their lives, which was the theme of the Ignatian Year. We also had at least five Jesuits giving out donuts to students on Lawton Plaza every week during the month of November.

The Jesuits also made an effort to bring Ignatian spirituality into our homilies during Mass. That was certainly true for the Mass of the Holy Spirit and Easter. We had banners in front of Sacred Heart Chapel that did a beautiful job of visually reminding us we are in the Year of St. Ignatius.

What is the LMU community called to do differently this year?
We were called to go deeper in Ignatian spirituality, which leads us on a deeper path toward God. And that is really what it is all about.

What does Ignatian spirituality mean to you?
St. Ignatius has given this tremendous gift to the Church and the world: the Spiritual Exercises. This is a spirituality that uses one’s imagination. As a filmmaker, I am a visual person. I find the use of Ignatian contemplation is key for my own spirituality. Every Jesuit does the Examen, which is really a pivotal part of our daily faith life.

The Jesuit Superior General, Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., has asked Catholics “to see all things new in Christ.” What does that mean?
For St. Ignatius, conversion was his cannonball moment. But conversions happen to all of us, whether that means one has a child or one loses a parent, or a job. Whatever those moments are in our lives that give us pause, we want to take them in and reflect on the deeper understanding of how God is working in our lives. Life should not be static. It should be in a state of constant deepening. I look back on what it meant for me to become a Jesuit when I first entered and that is very different than why I am still a Jesuit today—that’s because my relationship with God continues to grow deeper.

The Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) ask us to focus on showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment, walking with the poor, journeying with the youth, and caring for our common home. How are we accomplishing the UAPs at LMU?

This list is very helpful because they are guideposts, and they help us to think about how we can go deeper. We are educating the youth. But how we can better share our faith experiences with the youth? How can our graduates go out and share their knowledge with others?

The care of the environment is really significant. LMU does so much for our sustainable efforts, but how can we do more to care for our common home? One simple example is that the Jesuits do a tree planting every year with a prayer service. We pray for all of those who take care of our garden, and we pray for the city, state and country. We pray that we really are good stewards of our natural resources.

We also want to share the Spiritual Exercises, discernment, and finding God in all things with others so that we can all learn from each other and be grounded in Ignatian Spirituality.

Finally, we are being called to serve the poor. That is in LMU’s DNA, with one part of our mission statement reading, “The service of faith and the promotion of justice.” Students go to the Center for Service and Action and Campus Ministry to volunteer regularly. LMU Loyola Law School is working with the incarcerated. We are making tremendous efforts with those on the margins. But I think we are being called to think about how we can do more. How can we help more people get access to this education? Are there more scholarship opportunities available? We have done some really good things, but we have a lot more to do in our city—there’s so much brokenness and there’s so much healing that needs to be done.

How do you think LMU did honoring the Ignatian Year?
I think we did well because the whole idea is to go deeper and to pause and reflect on the best pathway toward God. Ignatian spirituality leads us into a deeper understanding of who God is in our lives. We commemorate St. Ignatius because it’s the 500th anniversary of the cannonball moment. I think every year should be an Ignatian Year at a Jesuit institution.

By Christine Koehl, Associate Director for Marketing and Communications at Loyola Marymount University

Eric Clayton


My first real introduction to Ignatian spirituality came from the walls I passed by day after day in the second year of my undergraduate career at Fairfield University. That year, I lived in the Ignatian Residential College: a living and learning community of about 200 sophomores.

The thesis of the year was simple: Intentional community infused with Ignatian spirituality, carved out during a pivotal moment of a young person’s life, could help better form all of us to be people for and with others. The particular residence hall in which this community was housed was – at least in 2008 – the best Fairfield had to offer: a beautiful gathering space complete with free snacks, comfy chairs and endless coffee; rooms for quiet study and group activities; and no need to ever walk out of the front door.

The academic year itself – and all of the extracurricular activities that took place – was organized around three key questions: Who am I? Whose am I? Who am I called to be? We returned to those questions again and again throughout the year, touchstones for our personal discovery and discernment. And in case we ever forgot them, those questions hung on enormous banners throughout the halls.

Ten years later, those questions still come readily to my mind. They were the right questions then, and they haven’t lost their relevance today.

Who am I? This question is foundational to any of our personal stories. Any realistic answer to this question carries with it themes of family heritage and history, language, faith and friendship. It anchors us in our own unique past and positions us to carve out our own unique present. Understanding who we are helps us understand where we’re going, why we’re going there, and the particular methods, techniques and tactics that each of us employs to reach our goals.

Whose am I? This is a question of community. It speaks both to the people who have formed us in the past, as well as those who are forming us in the present. It points to the privileges we have – or haven’t – enjoyed by virtue of the groups with which we’re associated. It challenges us to think about the values we hold – and hold in common with others. And it pushes us beyond ourselves to think about what we are and what we might yet be for others, near and far.

Who am I called to be? A question with more answers than many of us may hope for, this final question speaks to our vocation: the intersection of our passion with the world’s needs. We are reminded that we are called to be different things to different people at different times. But ultimately, for the person of faith, we look to God to guide us in discovering the answer.

These questions, for me, are distinctly Ignatian and inherently spiritual. So, it was a real surprise when I encountered them many years after graduation on a different university campus, one with no Jesuit influence.

I was taking a course in international communication at American University in Washington, D.C, when I was introduced to the work of Marshall Ganz.* Ganz proposes a public narrative, an exercise in storytelling in the public sphere. The building blocks of a compelling public narrative are simple: tell a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. Ganz writes that:

“[a] story of self communicates the values that move us to lead. A story of us communicates values shared by those whom you hope to motivate to join us. And a story of now communicates the urgent challenge to those values that demands action now.”

For me, Ganz was adding a new layer to the three questions I’d wrestled with in college, but he was doing so by issuing an additional challenge: the stories we tell are opportunities to lead others to make change. We have to be able to bring others – both those who agree with us and those who do not – along with us as we respond to God’s call in our lives.

Photo courtesy of Eric Clayton


These three questions – Who am I? Whose am I? Who am I called to be? – make up the backbone of my new book, Cannonball Moments. But arguably more important than that, they make up the backbone of each of our own ongoing stories. They demand to be answered as we muddle through our day-to-day. They whisper, nudge, insist.

These questions drive us to seek out our deepest, most authentic selves. And then, to act.

In many ways, that’s what this Ignatian Year has been about. We’ve reflected on the cannonball moment, when St. Ignatius’ war wound forced him into a convalescent conversion. We’ve also – hopefully – spent time reflecting on our own cannonball moments: those big, loud, obnoxious explosions in our life stories that turn us about and set us on new paths.

But what I hope we take from this year – and what I hope my book can offer – is a roadmap to continual reflection, a continual unpacking of the stories that make up our lives: the good and the bad, the loud and the quiet, the painful and the miraculous.

Not every important moment begins with a cannonball blast. But even these quiet, easily missed moments can be pivotal to our life stories, pivotal to the role we might play in building up the common good.

If the Ignatian Year invited us to consider the cannonball moment, let’s use the years that follow to reflect on all the many moments that come after.

*Ganz, Marshall. 2011. “Public Narrative, Collective Action, and Power.” In Accountability Through Public Opinion: From Inertiato Public Action, eds. Sina Odugbemi and Taeku Lee: 273-289. Washington D.C: The World Bank. Ibid p. 282.

By Eric Clayton, Deputy Director of Communications, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

Eric Clayton is the author of “Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith,” and the deputy director of communications for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He is a 2011 graduate of Fairfield University and lives with his family in Baltimore, MD. Learn more about Eric at

Matters of policy might not seem to fit in an issue of Connections dedicated to St. Ignatius Loyola and his (and our) cannonball moments. As we in the Jesuit family celebrate the Ignatian Year, is there a connection we can or should make to our advocacy efforts?

As many of you know, the Ignatian Year marks a milestone anniversary: 500 years since the conversion and transformation of St. Ignatius. The International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) has called on the Jesuit higher educational community to “go from profession to purpose, to make a deeper reflection of [students’] talents, their passions and the world’s greatest needs.”

Taking time for reflection is always a good thing. In our policy work, we often don’t get to do so. But when we do, we benefit from the clarity of purpose that comes with discernment. So, with reflection in mind, let’s take a moment to consider more deeply the program that is at the heart of our advocacy at AJCU: the federal Pell Grant program.

Interestingly, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Pell Grants. Created in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant and funded with $47.5 million the following year, the program initially supported 170,000 students across the United States. Since that time, the program was renamed (in 1980) to honor the late Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), who had determined many years earlier that there should be a federal program like the G.I. Bill that would serve all students with economic need and allow them to choose which institution best fulfilled their educational purpose and goal.

Today, the program provides support to approximately seven million students, with a maximum amount of $6,895 per grant. Pell remains “the single largest source of federal grant aid supporting post-secondary education students” (Blackwell’s).

During the 2019-20 academic year, 34% of all undergraduate students across the country received a Pell Grant. According to the Lumina Foundation, “Thirty-one percent of college students come from families at or below the Federal Poverty Guideline. The majority (53%) come from families at or below twice the poverty level.” A recent report from NAICU (National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities) notes that “private, nonprofit colleges and universities enroll roughly the same percentage of Pell recipients as do public institutions,” reinforcing that there are different paths toward pursuing a higher education.

And while the Pell Grant is a powerful tool, it does not guarantee equal outcomes. Pell Grant recipients face a tougher road, compared to their peers from families with higher incomes. Pell Grant recipients will graduate with higher debt and at lower rates than those peers. The promise of greater equity is one of the motivating factors for AJCU in our push to double the funding for the Federal Pell Grant maximum. A doubling of the current Pell Grant to a maximum of $13,000 annually would reduce borrowing for those eligible students, likely reducing economic stress and leading to better outcomes, including higher graduation rates. Students who complete their degrees are better off than those who do not, as measured by income levels, access to health care, and life expectancy, to name just a few.

Anyone who reads this column or follows the advocacy work of AJCU is familiar with Pell Grants. Does it make sense to consider the program in the context of this Ignatian year? I think it does! The Pell Grant is a catalyst for change and opportunity—much like the cannonball was for St. Ignatius. For many students, the Pell Grant can be what opens the door to the world of learning and exploration. It welcomes new experiences that might invite their own personal cannonball moments of conversion.

Senator Pell, the father of the program, once said, “The strength of the United States is not the gold in Fort Knox or the weapons of mass destruction that we have, but the sum total of the education and the character of our people” (HHS via Google Books). His tenacity and vision led to the creation of the program that now bears his name and one that continues to stand the test of time.

AJCU’s commitment to the Pell Grant is rooted in a desire to expand opportunities for students to explore all quality post-secondary educational opportunities, including, of course, those at Jesuit colleges and universities. Pell Grants redefine what is possible and open new paths for unleashing each person’s potential.

Education and learning are pursuits that have value. What awaits the student who arrives on one of our campuses? Is it there where they will encounter transformative change? Such “cannonball moments” must be possible for all students, regardless of need, which is why the Pell Grant program is critical. It provides access and allows our Jesuit institutions to remain committed partners with our students to create a world that is more compassionate, more peaceful, and more just.

By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU