To Welcome, To Inform, and To Form: Advancing the Mission at John Carroll

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.