By Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., President, AJCU

In Catholic higher education, the role of “mission officer” is relatively new and broad in scope. For decades, the key leadership positions within Catholic colleges and universities were overwhelmingly held by priests or women religious, and it was generally assumed that through such leadership, an institution was successfully maintaining its Catholic identity.

Over the past 30 years, however, the declining number of priests and women religious (combined with policy changes across the nation’s colleges and universities) has compelled institutions to search for both lay leaders as presidents and individuals with strong backgrounds in ministry to not only maintain, but to strengthen, their Catholic heritage, mission and identity.

Jesuits occupy the role of Vice President for Mission and Identity (or similar title) at just over half of the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges and universities. Of the remaining schools, the position is split evenly between lay men and women, who bring extensive credentials and experience to their work. Their capabilities are strengthened by decades spent working at our institutions and participating in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola or numerous formation programs offered by AJCU, Jesuit Provinces and other Jesuit organizations.

As more of our institutions hire lay leaders as presidents, the Jesuits who serve as heads of mission and identity often serve as spokespeople and take on more public roles in their local communities. This is a wonderful development to witness as it increases the visibility of these Jesuits, and strengthens the relationships between lay and religious administrators. Such relationships are vital for a healthy administration and cabinet, and will only grow in importance and necessity in the years to come.

Here at AJCU, we recognize the importance of formation for strong leaders in Jesuit education, and are proud to sponsor the Jesuit Leadership Seminar and the Ignatian Colleagues Program, both administered by lay leaders with strong commitments to Jesuit education. And in an effort to better assist our conferences (30 and counting!), we hired Dr. Stephanie Russell last summer to serve as our first vice president for mission integration; you will read more about her background in this issue of Connections. Dr. Russell is also available to support the mission efforts at all of our schools including formation and planning work for boards of trustees.

The strength of our institutions and indeed, our AJCU network, never ceases to amaze me. We are fortunate to have such fine leaders in our company, and we thank them for their hard work and commitment to Jesuit education.

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

The Immigration Nightmare

Ever since President Trump was sworn into office just a few weeks ago, immigration reform has accelerated substantially. Discussion of “the wall” has been met on Capitol Hill with support from Republican leadership, but also with skepticism on how to pay for it: a wall that could cost more than $15 billion is a project that has no easy resolution. The January 27th Executive Order on travel bans for undocumented individuals from seven countries with large Muslim populations has caused great consternation and deep worries across the country including undocumented students on our Jesuit campuses.

Many of these students are considered “Dreamers” who were brought into the country by their parents when they were young. AJCU has been supportive of the Dream Act since it was first introduced by Jesuit alumnus Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) over ten years ago. Attempts to pass the Dream Act into law have not been achieved, although many efforts have been made through the years.

Out of concern for the “Dreamers,” President Obama issued an Executive Order in 2012 that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA), which protects undocumented students and individuals with work permits who entered the country as minors. Individuals enrolled in DACA are guaranteed safety in the United States, cannot be deported, and are eligible for program renewal every two years. President Trump did not include DACA in his original Executive Order on immigration.

During his press conference on February 16th, President Trump said that DACA is a painful issue for him. He also claimed that he had a great heart and that these “kids are just wonderful.” As of this writing, Trump is planning to release a clarifying Executive Order that would encompass the 9th Circuit Federal Court’s rationale for putting a halt to deportation of DACA individuals and other immigrants affected by his original Executive Order.

A number of colleges, universities, cities and even states have responded to overarching immigration concerns by declaring themselves sanctuary institutions or sanctuary cities or states. Unfortunately, the legal protection of those declarations does not exist or is sketchy at best. Last month, the nation’s higher education associations, including AJCU, sent a letter initiated by the American Council on Education (ACE) to the new Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, raising concerns on the potential elimination of DACA and requesting a meeting with him. To date, we have not received a response. Seventeen Jesuit institutions were among the 610 institutions across the U.S. that also signed a letter submitted to DHS by ACE to comment on immigration.

AJCU remains very committed to protecting our students and ensuring that DACA remains in place. After the November election, AJCU released a statement from the presidents of AJCU and 27 Jesuit institutions about our beliefs on immigration. Without a doubt, this immigration rule has triggered deep concerns over religious discrimination, and the so-called right of the Federal government to deport individuals who originate from predominantly Muslim countries. AJCU will continue to work on immigration issues with the continued desire to protect the undocumented students on our Jesuit campuses.

The President’s first Skinny Budget for FY18 is expected to be released by the Office of Management and Budget near the end of February. We may or may not get a sense of priorities from this minimal budget. The final budget for FY18 will be released at a later date in April or possibly May. The budget process is a precursor to the appropriations process.

By Michael Wieczorek, Executive Assistant to the President, AJCU

Michael Wieczorek and Dr. Stephanie Russell (Photo by AJCU)
Michael Wieczorek and Dr. Stephanie Russell (Photo by AJCU)

Dr. Stephanie Russell has had a remarkable career in mission-focused work. Her work in ministry began in the 1980s at Red Cloud Indian School (Pine Ridge, South Dakota), located in one of the poorest counties in the United States. Dr. Russell went on to spend eleven years working as Provincial Assistant for Lay Formation and Social Ministry with the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, followed by fifteen years as Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Marquette University before coming to AJCU in 2016. She describes the process that prepared her for this new role as an “accidental formation” in Ignatian spirituality and pedagogy.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity.

You have had an impressive career in mission and ministry. What draws you to mission-oriented work in higher education?

More than anywhere in the Church, Jesuit higher education holds a unique spot in American public life and in the higher education space. My skill set is that I can be a connector among the many disparate groups at a university or among universities. We get so isolated in our own areas of expertise, but my role is to enter people’s worlds as CFOs, as educators, as administrators and say, ‘What does it mean that you perform this role at a Jesuit school? How does or should that impact your work?’ The goal is mission integration and service to the common good.

Mission integration can be an imprecise goal. How do you measure success? What does it look like when a school or organization has strong mission integration?

It’s one thing to be a values-based organization, but mission integration implies a deeper set of responsibilities that carries through at all levels. One sign of success is if we can ask the leaders of a school to talk, in their own words, about the mission in relation to their work for 5-10 minutes. Can they do that thoughtfully and creatively? You also look at the impact that the institution is having, overall. Is anyone less impoverished because of our work? Are we succeeding in making education more accessible? Are we standing for and with people who have been ignored or sidelined by our society? If the answer to those questions is ‘yes,’ that is a strong start.

What challenges does the current political climate pose for our Jesuit institutions?

The difficult question is, ‘How do we walk the line of being prophetic, without being partisan?’ We need to create spaces of dialogue and deep listening because we are in a privileged place as universities. It is increasingly difficult to find places where true dialogue, debate, and discernment can take place in our country. Universities that take their public citizenship seriously can contribute a lot toward creating opportunities for all three. But it is also true that our Jesuit identity calls us to stand with those whose voices are often unheard or dismissed. We need to be places where the experiences of people who are poor or marginalized are heard and honored. Putting pressing social, cultural, and political issues in dialogue with Catholic social and intellectual life is project worth pursuing, even when it is hard or uncomfortable.

Jesuits have always had a foot in the world and a foot in the Church, a foot with the poor and one with the wealthy. We live there, in that tension. That is our history. Our vocation as educators includes the work of finding God in all things. We cannot say we will find God in everything or everyone except ‘X.’ Some people become angry when we show up in places that do not look particularly “holy,” but that is our mission.

You were a co-creator of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP). How did the program come about?

I was talking with [former AJCU president] Rev. Gregory Lucey, S.J., and he felt that we needed to do more formation with senior leadership. We wanted to create a mission certification that was recognized among the Jesuit schools. So, it grew out of a need, and it really helped give mission extra credibility on our campuses. It was not just the Jesuit leaders [who] were pushing for those conversations, but also the lay leaders.

Describe your role as Vice President of Mission Integration for AJCU. 

There are three areas. I work with our professional conferences to help them consider the intersections of their work and their mission priorities, and I help to connect the work of the conferences to each other. The second focus is to be a resource to our schools, as a facilitator on mission topics, or to help them find colleagues within the network who can be of assistance to them. Third, I work with [AJCU president] Rev. Michael Sheeran, S.J. on “other duties as assigned.” At the moment, that includes assisting with the higher education Mission Priorities Examen process, and aggregating some hiring resources that the schools can use, if they wish.

Tell me more about the Examen process.

It is a process through which schools reaffirm their Jesuit, Catholic identity. The most common misconception is that it is an accreditation process. It’s really something closer to spiritual direction, in that the school takes a look at its mission commitments alongside colleagues who want to be of help and support in the process. We are seeing schools build the outcomes from those discussions into their strategic plans, and the feedback among staff at the schools has also been very positive.

What advice do you have for higher education professionals looking to increase their involvement in mission-oriented work?

I get calls all the time from people looking to get more involved in the mission of their school. I think it’s important, first, to understand how universities work, and especially to take a deep dive into the work of teaching and research. Even those who are not faculty members can learn from others in the institution. Then the question is, how does being at a Jesuit school matter for this work? You really get a grasp of the mission when you make the Spiritual Exercises in some form, and learn more deeply about the interplay of the Exercises and how we educate students. Finally, we are all tempted to live in the insulated world of our own work. If it’s really “mission,” then we need to enter the worlds and languages and cultures of other people. Even when St. Ignatius Loyola was consumed with being an administrator of a global project, he never stopped spending some of each week with the poor. We need to have the experience of having our hearts broken over the injustices that exist in the world, in order to be effective in our mission. In the end, it’s about the well-being of people and our relationships with them, rather than sterile or faceless issues.

By Cristal Steuer, Senior Strategist, TVP Communications

Rev. William R. Campbell, S.J. (Photo by College of the Holy Cross)
Rev. William R. Campbell, S.J. (Photo by College of the Holy Cross)


Rev. William R. Campbell, S.J. ’87 was named vice president for mission at the College of the Holy Cross in the summer of 2014. Prior to re-joining the Holy Cross community, he was the president of Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine from 2008 to 2014.

Fr. Campbell is no stranger to the Holy Cross campus or to Worcester, MA. He graduated from the College in 1987 and served as assistant chaplain at Holy Cross from 2003-05 and 2007-08, as well as one year (2006-07) as interim principal at Nativity School of Worcester. In response to returning to the College, Fr. Campbell said: “When I considered the impact the College had in shaping my sense of who I am in the world; and when I admit that my current role allows me some shared responsibility for helping to shape the experience of today’s students and staff, I simply could not pass up the opportunity.”   

Fr. Campbell talks about the priorities of the mission office, becoming a priest, and shares his prediction for the winner of the Holy Cross/Boston University Turnpike Trophy basketball rivalry.

The College recently built the Thomas P. Joyce ’59 Contemplative Center. Why is the Center important for students and how is the College using it to care for students, faculty, staff and alumni?

What the Center represents is at the core of our mission as a Catholic, Jesuit liberal arts college. It invites us to reflect on the meaningful questions of our lives. So, we have greatly expanded our retreat programming for all of our constituents (students, staff, faculty and alumni) in both range and depth. We are as limited in our use of this facility as we are in the use of our imaginations. I was secretly happy when I recently heard an administrative peer say that she could not get access to the Center for a reflective program she is planning for her division because the date was already booked. What a great problem to have!

Can you tell me about the new mission-related initiatives you have implemented on campus? 

One of the main reasons for building the Joyce Contemplative Center was to be able to offer new and more programming for alumni and affinity groups, as well as for students, faculty and staff. A reporter from The Boston Globe even took part in one of our new retreats, “Eat, Pray, Study.” Other initiatives include working with College Marketing and Communications and Information Technology Services (ITS) to launch a digital Advent Calendar last year, accessible to everyone from our homepage; working with academic affairs, we added a session on Jesuits in the arts and sciences to the syllabus for the annual Mission Seminar for new faculty and staff members; and partnering with human resources, we revised the Mission in Motion Wellness Challenge to include personal reflections and photographs by faculty and staff who have participated in the annual Faculty Pilgrimage to Ignatian sites in Spain and Rome. We are also working on many new initiatives for 2017, so please stay tuned.  

At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a priest? 

My dad had two cousins who were diocesan priests, and we saw them often. So, thinking about becoming a priest was a given possibility in my family. But it wasn’t until I met the Jesuits while I was a student at Holy Cross that I understood the shape of my vocation. I didn’t know the vocabulary to use at the time, but I intuited something about Jesuit spirituality and the Jesuit charism that ignited my desire for priesthood. Yes, there were specific moments along the way when I would imagine what it could be like. I remember one moment a few months after I had graduated that was just so powerful I had to pursue it. I called up one of the Jesuits who had mentored me while I was a student at Holy Cross (the late Rev. Joseph LaBran, S.J.) and told him of my desire. His first words in reply were: “I knew we’d get you!”

As a student at Holy Cross, you participated in retreats. What is the biggest difference between the retreat program then and today?  

Actually, I only participated in one retreat when I was a student. I made the five-day silent version of the Spiritual Exercises during my freshman year. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t even know what other retreat options were available at the time! But I am grateful for the range of retreats students can choose from today and that we continue to offer our students multiple times each year, as we have for generations, the Spiritual Exercises.

What’s the best part about your job? 

I love it when students, faculty and staff stop by my office unannounced just to say “Hi.” I wish I were better at stopping by their open doors!

If you could ask any past pope (or the current pope, Francis) one question, what would it be?  

“Pope Francis, if you could sit and have a drink with a declared Jesuit saint, which one would it be and why?” Is that two questions?

If you weren’t a Jesuit priest and Vice President for Mission at Holy Cross, what would you be? 

I started a career in arts administration, which I left to join the Jesuits. I sometimes wonder if I would now be a famous Broadway producer had I stayed! I have always wanted to be involved in radio broadcasting, something I did a lot of while in high school and during college. I would probably be a host of NPR’s Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

Who will win the Turnpike Trophy men’s basketball game on Feb. 25, Holy Cross or Boston University?

Holy Cross. Slam dunk!

Anything you would like to add, that I didn’t ask?

You didn’t ask what my favorite color is. As a kid, long before I knew about Holy Cross, my favorite color was purple. No kidding.

By Edward J. Peck, Ph.D., Vice President for Mission and Identity, John Carroll University

Edward J. Peck, Ph.D. (Photo by John Carroll University)
Edward J. Peck, Ph.D. (Photo by John Carroll University)


The Office of University Mission and Identity at John Carroll University (JCU) is staffed by a Vice President for Mission and Identity (VPMI) and a part-time administrative assistant, whose offices are on the first floor of the Administration Building at the center of campus. As part of the Provost’s Office, the VPMI collaborates closely with other campus leaders involved in the student learning experience, making it possible to sponsor, co-sponsor, and support a wide range of integrative, collaborative programs and initiatives that reach out to all parts of campus. 

John Carroll’s mission programming begins with welcome. As our Jesuit, Catholic mission distinguishes us and defines our culture, it is foundationally important that we allocate time and resources to orient new students, staff and faculty, welcoming people of all faiths and of no particular faith. We orient new students to our University Learning Goals of Intellect, Character, Leadership and Service during “Living the Mission Day” and New Student Convocation. We orient new faculty to Ignatian pedagogy and the Catholic Intellectual Life through the New Faculty Seminar, and we orient staff to Ignatian history and Jesuit values during their orientation. Perhaps the most important welcome of all, however, occurs at the beginning of each academic year when we invite new and returning members to the Mass of the Holy Spirit, followed by a community picnic. 

We build on welcome by informing community members about our mission through a variety of visible signs and program offerings. A framed copy of the University Mission Statement hangs in nearly every office, and a new Saint Ignatius Plaza anchors the main quad in front of the University chapel. Twice a year, all faculty, staff, and Board members receive a printed copy of Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education along with a note inviting them to participate in upcoming discussions on each issue. The University also offers a wide array of religious, spiritual and cultural lectures through its institutes and centers, including the Institute of Catholic Studies, the Breen Chair in Systematic Theology, the Nursi Chair in Islamic Studies, the Tuohy Chair in Interreligious Studies, and the Shirley Seaton Cultural Awareness Series. Periodic brown-bag luncheons are thematically focused on topics such as Ignatian spirituality, social justice, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis, Catholic Social Teaching and the election, and General Congregation 36. 

Saint Ignatius Plaza (photo by John Carroll University)
Saint Ignatius Plaza (photo by John Carroll University)


Our annual Ignatian Heritage Week offers an opportunity to do more integrated programming related to themes such as Teaching and Learning in the Ignatian Tradition (2017), Immigration and Refugees (2016), and Environmental Sustainability (2015). The week regularly includes a celebration of student, staff and faculty service awards; a community luncheon; and a time to reflect on the theme through music, poetry and witness. 

We build on information about mission by forming people for mission through invitational opportunities that require varying levels of commitment. For example, Campus Ministry offers full and half days of reflection, Bible studies and immersion trips. The Institute for Ignatian Spirituality offers 8-week and 19th Annotation retreats, and the Center for Service and Social Action invites people to engage in a range of community service activities, including an annual Jesuit Day of Service. Those faculty and staff who seek a deeper, more integrated experience of formation now have the opportunity to participate in our newest program, the JCU Companions in Mission Program. The Companions program is a cohort-based, semester-long series of activities that includes five workshop sessions, a day of reflection, a day of service, and an application of the material to their work.

To encourage and track participation in these and related activities, the University implemented a well-received Mission Leave policy four years ago that allows employees to take up to three and a half days of paid leave per year to participate in a University-sponsored mission activity. While some use mission leave to participate in service activities, others use it for days of reflection or immersion trips.

Like most Jesuit schools, John Carroll also invests in the formation of its people by sending them to programs like the Jesuit Leadership Seminar as well as Collegium and The Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education, which are sponsored by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Over the past eight years, John Carroll has sent twenty-three administrators and faculty to participate in the Ignatian Colleagues Program, which is an intensive eighteen-month formation program that involves study, retreat, immersion, and the implementation of a project that advances mission on one’s home campus. In recent years, for example, colleagues have led divisional book discussions, designed a follow-up workshop for second and third year faculty, integrated Catholic Social Teaching into their courses, and coordinated student activities around immigration and border issues.

As evidenced above, the work of welcoming, informing, and forming a community takes a village, or rather, a university. It cannot be the work of one office or one person alone. Instead, leaders and departments across the University, inspired and supported by the Office of University Mission and Identity, collaborate and strategize effectively to advance the mission. This became evident during last year’s Mission Examen and Reaffirmation process, for which JCU was one of three pilot schools. After much study and conversation, the writing committee realized how thoroughly mission animates all major aspects of University life, from the new integrative core curriculum to Student Affairs programs, to Promise and Prominence: John Carroll University’s Strategic Plan 2015-2020. It was the strategic plan, in fact, that enabled us to frame our future mission priorities, including the promotion of peace, justice and sustainability; an Ignatian pedagogy of reflection that leads to action; interreligious and intercultural dialogue; and a culture of inclusive excellence.  

A final word of gratitude. In “Cooperation with the Laity in Mission,” a document of the 34th General Congregation, the Jesuits express their desire to share “what we are and what we have received: our spiritual and apostolic inheritance, our educational resources, and our friendship.” The Jesuit Community at John Carroll offers us all three in a variety of ways, from inviting groups to worship and dine with them in their residence, to sharing liturgy, spiritual direction, and the Sacraments. Four years, ago, the Community also gave a $1 million dollar gift to establish the Rev. Dean Brackley, S.J. Mission Endowment Fund to support social justice programming. This funding, coupled with other generous endowment gifts, makes welcoming, informing and forming possible now and into the future.

By Ron Bernas, Office of University Advancement, University of Detroit Mercy

First-generation students Barbara Fama and Jamari Rowland listen to a speaker at a FirstGen Network meeting Photo by University of Detroit Mercy).
First-generation students Barbara Fama and Jamari Rowland listen to a speaker at a FirstGen Network meeting Photo by University of Detroit Mercy).

University of Detroit Mercy Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry—and alumnus—Matthew Mio has a theory: “Everyone who works here knows the mission of the school, but everyone interprets it differently—there is not just one way to carry out our mission.”

It’s only 44 words long, but those words inspire a sense of community drawn straight from the University’s Jesuit and Mercy founders. Here are four of the creative ways that faculty, staff and administrators carry out their interpretation of the mission of Detroit Mercy.

“University of Detroit Mercy, a Catholic university in the Jesuit and Mercy traditions, exists to provide excellent student-centered undergraduate and graduate education in an urban context.

The Mission Micro Grant Program provides grants of up to $200 for faculty and staff to run projects that support the University's mission. Here the Chemistry Club demonstrates the fun in chemical reactions to elementary students to raise interest in…
The Mission Micro Grant Program provides grants of up to $200 for faculty and staff to run projects that support the University’s mission. Here the Chemistry Club demonstrates the fun in chemical reactions to elementary students to raise interest in STEM fields (Photo by University of Detroit Mercy).

The Detroit Collaborative Design Center, known as the DCDC and housed within the Detroit Mercy School of Architecture, is a 23-year-old nonprofit architecture and urban design firm. It helps to connect community members with the resources necessary to create viable and sustainable enhancements driven and supported by local residents. The work is funded primarily by philanthropic grants.

The DCDC offers a broad range of services (e.g. architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and design, and community engagement strategies) to nonprofit clients in Detroit and elsewhere across the country. Recent projects include:

That last project, in collaboration with Impact Detroit, earned the organization one of more than a dozen awards that it has received over the years. This year, the American Institute of Architects bestowed the DCDC with its prestigious Whitney M. Young Jr. Award given to an architect or architectural organization that “embodies social responsibility and actively addresses a relevant issue such as affordable housing or universal access.”

“For any architect or organization committed to public interest design, this is without a doubt the highest honor one could hope to receive,” said Will Wittig, AIA, Dean of the School of Architecture. “We are humbled to be the recipients of this distinction.”

A Detroit Mercy education seeks to integrate the intellectual, spiritual… 

Mechanical Engineering student Molly Laird works on a stroller, redesigned for a client who must use a wheelchair as part of the University's Faces on Design program (Photo by University of Detroit Mercy).
Mechanical Engineering student Molly Laird works on a stroller, redesigned for a client who must use a wheelchair as part of the University’s Faces on Design program (Photo by University of Detroit Mercy).

Capstone projects are common in engineering programs at colleges and universities; Detroit Mercy’s is unique. Mechanical Engineering students spend their senior year designing and building an assistive technology project for one person. The project is called Faces on Design.

The clients are selected by the University’s McAuley School of Nursing faculty from recommendations by the Detroit Veterans Administration. Last year, a group of students built a motorized device to help a woman with lupus load her 52-pound wheelchair into her trunk. Other projects include a spoon for a client with tremors and a pad that helps prevent bedsores.

Engineering students work in tandem with Nursing students who can advise on design issues based on their knowledge of medical devices already available and the individual patient needs.

“It’s not just a project,” said Nassif Rayess, assistant dean of research and outreach for the College of Engineering & Science. “The motivation is not grades. It’s for a client and the client has a face.” 

…ethical and social development of students.”

Nearly one third of those who attend Detroit Mercy are first-generation college students, a population defined as students whose parents do not have a four-year college degree. 

These students face hurdles that students with a history of university education in their immediate families do not: They are more likely to come from low-income families and are more likely to leave college without graduating. 

In her role as chair of the University’s Undergraduate Retention Committee, Mary-Catherine Harrison, an associate professor of English, has listened to these students talk about their misunderstandings about college logistics and their fears about not succeeding. “I found a lot of first-generation students experienced self-doubt or ‘imposter syndrome,’ and said they didn’t feel [like] they belong at a university.” 

That was Harrison’s impetus in forming FirstGen Network. It’s a loose support group that brings these students together with faculty, staff, alumni and other students who are first-generation college graduates. A series of videos by these mentors of sorts—from professors, administrators, even Detroit Mercy’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Pamela Zarkowski— provides laughter and advice as they share how they navigated the college experience, often with little or no support from home.

The organization also serves as a source of information to students who may need other University-sponsored services, such as the Student Success Center and TRIO Student Support Services program. A $25,000 grant from the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Mercy Ministry Grants helped fund the program.

“What’s good about this group,” said Nursing student Marco Ineguez, “is to know there are other people like me here.”

The mission of Detroit Mercy manifests itself in smaller ways, too, thanks to the Mission Micro Grant Program in which employees can apply for University grants of up to $200 to perform a mission-centered project.

Since 2008, more than 200 micro grants have been awarded in a variety of areas. They have gone as honoraria for speakers; support for an employee Women’s Prayer Group; foot care kits for Nursing students working with homeless people; oral health educational materials for local children; and food for a small free pantry set up to help Detroit Mercy students and employees.

“One of the joys is [seeing] the sheer variety of projects that have requested funding,” said Associate Professor of English Rosemary Weatherston, who came up with the idea. “It helps people do things they’re already committed to doing.”

Matthew Mio, who has received these grants in the past to offer chemistry demonstrations to local elementary schools, adds: “There is not just one way to carry out our mission. There are many, and this program makes them all possible.”

By Debra Mooney, Ph.D., Chief Mission Officer and Founding Director of the Conway Institute for Jesuit Education, Xavier University

Photo: Dr. Debra Mooney (second from right) joins the WVXU public radio station to present on Xavier’s immigration education efforts with the host of Cincinnati Edition, Mark Heyne, and two grant recipients, Drs. Christine Anderson (second from left…

Photo: Dr. Debra Mooney (second from right) joins the WVXU public radio station to present on Xavier’s immigration education efforts with the host of Cincinnati Edition, Mark Heyne, and two grant recipients, Drs. Christine Anderson (second from left) and Thilini Ariyachandra (right) (Photo by Xavier University).

Dr. Debra Mooney (Photo by Xavier University)
Dr. Debra Mooney (Photo by Xavier University)


A relatively new mission-oriented strategic initiative has blossomed at Xavier University. A few years ago, the University President, Rev. Michael J. Graham, S.J., invited a number of heads of centers and academic programs with strong touch-points to the Jesuit identity to come together to create more integrated programming across the campus. Consequently, collaborative engagement ensued among the campus directors of the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue; Office of Diversity and Inclusion; Ethics/Religion and Society Program; Community Building Institute; Eigel Center for Community Engagement; Center for Faith and Justice; First-Year Experience Program; Office of Interfaith Community Engagement; Sustainability and Theology Departments; and Chief Officers of Diversity & Inclusion and Mission. This working group named itself “The Mission Animators.”

Because the President’s invitation was descriptive and not prescriptive, meetings of the Mission Animators include both dialogues on significant issues as well as creative programmatic design. The first collaboration focused on campus celebrations honoring the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate – the seminal Catholic Church document on the importance of interfaith understanding and engagement – through conferences with internationally known experts and a campus-civic initiative to support the interaction of [differing] youth groups through community service.

This year, a new approach was taken. To more deeply integrate Xavier’s Jesuit identity into everyday campus life, the Mission Animators wanted to (1) involve more people and (2) continue to do so around a specific theme. The group chose the theme of immigration (including migration and refugees) for the 2016-17 academic year. Through a generous gift from an anonymous Xavier supporter, funding was made available for projects and activities. In May 2016, the Mission Animators hosted a meeting on the mini-grant application process for such projects; surprisingly, the turn-out of faculty and staff was so large that the meeting was moved across the hall to a larger room. The topic appeared to be quite popular across campus! In fact, the 23 applications exceeded the predicted 4 or 6.

After reviewing the applications this past summer, the Animators decided to partially fund all projects with mini grants ranging from $100-$1,500. Supported projects, events and activities are represented in all areas of the University and include hosting conferences, creating exhibits, providing supplemental tutoring for young immigrants and supporting family/community resources. Projects completed during the Fall 2016 semester include:

The collective interests of the area directors comprising the Mission Animators is magnified for the benefit of the entire campus. As Rev. Daniel McDonald S.J., the Bi-Provincial Assistant for Jesuit Higher Education of the Wisconsin and Chicago-Detroit Jesuit Provinces notes on the functioning of Xavier’s Animators, “It is unique and it seems to have a far-reaching effect because the committee people are risk-takers.”

This theme certainly advances our value on the Ignatian gifts of ‘solidarity and kinship’ and Pope Francis’ call to end the “globalization of indifference” toward migrants. Plans are underway for next year’s programming, centered on the theme of economic inequality and injustice.

Dr. Debra Mooney is the author of a new publication, Leadership Mastery and Moxie in 31 Days. Click here to order it online.

By Rev. Patrick J. Howell, S.J., Chair, National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education

(Photo by National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education)
(Photo by National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education)


Over the past few years, Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education (a publication of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education) has developed a high degree of collaboration with other AJCU constituencies. Four years ago, Dr. Tom Reynolds, who, at the time, served as Vice President for University Mission at Regis University, suggested to me that we brainstorm possible themes for the magazine that could be used by two regional Jesuit university organizations, Heartland/Delta and Western Conversations, during their annual meetings. Since then, these groups have generously given me the chance to meet with them to discuss which themes are most vital and urgent for their campuses.

A recent example of this mutuality is the forthcoming Heartland/Delta gathering at Creighton University in late February, which will make use of our Spring 2017 issue on “Difficult Conversations.” And Seattle University applied the magazine’s Fall 2016 theme, “Laudato Si, Care for our Common Home,” to last summer’s conference, Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons. We advanced our publication date by two weeks so that the magazine arrived in Seattle on time for the participants. Our seminar board might have been inclined to duck tough topics such as racism, the college hook up culture, and the financial viability of our institutions had it not been for the extra push from all of our colleagues on Jesuit campuses.

For the last five years, I have sent out a PDF of each new issue to all the Jesuit mission and identity officers. Some of the mission officers have then used a mix of both PDF and print versions of the magazine to focus on a few key issues and to share copies around the campus. Now, our new website (, is fully operative, dynamic, and accessible, providing a new home for the magazine. 

We had a rocky start with the transition. We had to change horses midstream and switch from a private designer to Square Space, a more user-friendly content management system for our own in-house webmaster. Since September 2016, Lucas Sharma, S.J., a Jesuit scholastic in his final year of First Studies at Fordham University, has made the site dynamic, accessible and current. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Georgetown University President Dr. John DeGioia greets members of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education during their January 2017 meeting in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Rev. Patrick Howell, S.J., pictured right)
Georgetown University President Dr. John DeGioia greets members of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education during their January 2017 meeting in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Rev. Patrick Howell, S.J., pictured right)


Conversations marked a quarter of a century of publication with the current issue, “Difficult Conversations” (issue #51). It has clearly evolved since it arose as an outcome of a national meeting that featured a foundational talk by Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. (Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1983 – 2008) at Georgetown University in 1989. At that point, the challenges of quickly changing times and circumstances among Jesuit institutions of higher learning were evident and urgent. New dynamics required a substantial re-grounding of the Jesuit mission. Consequently, the National Seminar, co-sponsored by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States and AJCU, was founded to serve all 28 colleges and universities with a special focus on the Jesuit mission and its ramifications for every dimension of the institution. With your collaboration, we are advancing and achieving that goal.

It was clear already in 1989 that the Century of the Laity had arrived early. Jesuits were shifting from leadership positions to roles of supporting the laity in their mission. With the single exception of the presidents, who remained mostly Jesuit for another 15 years, almost all other leadership positions were ones where lay men and women provided the expertise, savvy, and commitment to the Jesuit mission. Now, in 2017, we see 14 lay people fulfilling the role of president.* The torch has been passed. One of the woman vice presidents at Loyola University Maryland put it well when the Seminar Board met with faculty and staff there a few years ago. She said, “I had always embraced the Jesuit mission, but after making the Ignatian Colleagues Program, I realized that I owned the mission and I was responsible for it.”

The goal of Conversations has never been to set the agenda at each local institution nor to provide a normative lens for the Jesuit mission. Rather, its goal has been to stir a conversation, to engage a dialogue, to tap into the wisdom and depths of each member of the Jesuit community so that the shared wisdom might become the platform for new advances in the Jesuit mission. The Jesuit heritage was never meant to be a static, museum piece called upon to grace a baccalaureate Mass or to punctuate the president’s opening talk to freshmen. Our hope has been that, like St. Augustine’s encounter with God, even the most resistant among us might, after myriad exposures, exclaim about the Jesuit mission, “O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you.”

For at the heart of the Jesuit mission, all are welcome. All have something to contribute. It is through the conversation that beauty and wisdom and truth emerge. And these propel us to form new leaders for the common good, who can animate through generous service a just and humane society.

Rev. Patrick J. Howell, S.J., distinguished professor in the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at Seattle University, has been the chair of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education since January 2011.

*Please note: At present, the AJCU Board of Directors is comprised of 14 Jesuit presidents and 14 lay, non-Jesuit presidents, two of whom are serving in interim roles (click here for the Board of Directors page on the AJCU website).