Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Jesuit Difference (?): Narratives of Negotiating Spiritual Values and Secular Practices

Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Jesuit Difference (?): Narratives of Negotiating Spiritual Values and Secular Practices

Article excerpt

[Scene 1: Walking to get lunch at the Bistro.]

Erika: Chad, how's that reflection on what it means to teach at a Jesuit institution going?

Chad: Well, I'm not really sure anyone has ever explained to me what the Jesuit educational value of magis means, so I was going to look it up.

Erika: Do NOT do that ... the fact that you've been here almost two years and don't know says something I think ... if Creighton isn't telling people what Jesuit educational values are, how are you supposed to enact a Jesuit difference?

Chad: OK, I'm just going to be brave and say it. Sometimes I wonder how much there is a Jesuit difference vs. how much our teaching styles that we nurtured at other institutions also happen to fit with Jesuit values. I know cura personalis is a term associated with Jesuit identity ... but shouldn't all professors be concerned with the whole student?

Donna: I think so ... I've been at state institutions, but I've always been pretty student centered.

In the Creighton University (CU) Department of Communication Studies, some of us have struggled with this question for several years, while others are just starting to ponder: What does it mean to teach, research, and serve in a Catholic and Jesuit university? Is there a Jesuit/Ignatian "difference"--and if so, what is it? How should this "difference" impact our identities as teacher-scholars?

The Society of Jesus, an order of the Catholic priesthood, was founded on the teachings of Saint Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises to "provide an integrating vision of the world that arises out of a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ" (mission statement). Jesuits are literally "companions of Jesus Christ" (O'Malley, 1993). The 450-year tradition of Jesuit education has come to mean commitment to high intellectual and ethical standards, personal concern for every student, and the ability to "find God in all things," particularly in the poor and oppressed. Further, the Jesuits emphasize the transformative power of conversation and argue that education should be centered in dialogue. Recently, Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach (2001) directed, "We must link our work in education with the Ignatian spirituality which inspires it."

CU professes Jesuit educational values, which include cura personalis (care for the whole person), magis (striving for more), forming and educating agents for change, and creating men and women for and with others. But how, if at all, are these traditions and Ignatian values embodied in everyday life on campus? How do they impact our daily existence as teacher-scholars? When Jesuit educational values are explicitly discussed, members of the CU community challenge us to consider how our classes look different from those taught in the state system. In choosing to teach at a Catholic and Jesuit school, we each had to decide how we felt about blending religion, spirituality, and the academic life. At least in principle, choosing to teach at CU was a break from the "secular hegemony" that pervades much of our lives and privileges a secular view of the world while suppressing the spiritual (Rodriquez, 2001).

The years we are spending at CU implicitly testify that we see value in a Jesuit education, regardless of our own varied educational, religious, and spiritual backgrounds. Erika, who has been at CU 7 1/2 years, is a practicing Catholic who attended a private liberal arts undergraduate university. Chad (2 1/2 CU years) is Christian and attended a Christian liberal arts university for his B.A. and M.A. Sheri (1 1/2 CU years) is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and has only attended large state institutions. Marty (7 1/2 CU years) and Donna (11 1/2 CU years) are both Catholics who have only attended large state institutions. Finally, Mary Ann (18 1/2 CU years) is an active Missouri Synod Lutheran who attended state schools. Thus, except for Chad, we all attended large state institutions for M. …

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