AJCU Programs Form Ignatian Leaders on Jesuit Campuses

Dr. Joseph DeFeo (center, in blue) on a recent immersion trip for the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP) (Photo courtesy of Dr. Joseph DeFeo)

Michael Wieczorek, Executive Assistant to the President of AJCU, recently interviewed Dr. Joseph DeFeo, Executive Director of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP), and Dr. Jeanne Lord, Director of the Jesuit Leadership Seminar, who explained how their respective programs form Ignatian leaders on Jesuit campuses. The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Joseph DeFeo, Executive Director of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP)

MW: How did the idea for the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP) come about?
JD: It started before I came on board, but there was a group of schools in the Heartland Delta Region* that first sponsored it. There was an awareness about the significant decrease in the number of Jesuits at our schools, and so the question was raised: how do we foster the development of our Jesuit and Catholic charism, pedagogy and spirituality among our institutional leaders? A group of Jesuit Provincials, priests and lay people developed the idea of a formation program, and started in the Midwest with 20-30 people as a test group. By year six, it became a national program under the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU).

How did you become involved with ICP? What drew you to serve as Executive Director?
Much of my background has been working in Jesuit ministries such as Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Jesuit secondary and higher education. I had not heard of ICP, but I contacted them to start a dialogue with the founding executive director. He then invited me to get involved and participate in portions of the program. I then became the online coordinator and later, the director. It’s been a great fit because my interest and background is in Jesuit education, Ignatian spirituality and pedagogy, and building intentional communities. I also serve as a spiritual director and supervisor of directors.

What do you hope for participants to take away from the program?
I hope that they have learned a lot about the Ignatian charism and that they are able to find ways to adapt it to particular circumstances. I also hope that through personal engagement and personal growth, they become better people and grow as humans in some way. A larger goal or hope is that this network of our twenty-eight schools becomes an active community that can use its resources for the betterment of higher education nationally. There is an untapped potential here that is starting to build, and I’m excited to see how that will play out.

How does ICP differ from the Jesuit Leadership Seminar (JLS)? What differences exist in terms of approach, goals, etc.?
JLS is an initial step to learning about Jesuit higher education and how it works. It’s a week-long program that provides an introduction to Jesuit higher education, its history, mission and charism. ICP is interested in forming a community of participants across the network, and covers a vaster array of pieces related to mission. For example, why are they experiencing a silent retreat? It’s for them to grow in their faith as well as affect what they do on their campus. ICP also explores social justice issues through an immersion experience. So, it’s a more intense program. It is really the intensity and the wholistic approach that make it formational. Because of the variety of components and experiences, along with the length of time one is engaged, it accomplishes more than just one workshop or conference can.

Can you share a story about the impact that the program has had on one of the participants? Or, more broadly, at a Jesuit institution or in Jesuit higher education?
I just got a thank you note from a participant, who said, “I learned a ton, but more than that, I grew soulfully. I felt I developed some tools of spirit to guide me in decision-making.” That’s what we hope for. On a larger scale, ICP creates a community that our association has in name, but it makes it a more living, breathing, active community and network. It allows people to gain a sense of Jesuit higher education as a network in relationship to the higher education academy.

In a time of tight budgets and assorted challenges for higher education, why is it important to prioritize a program like ICP?
There is an expression that says, “no money, no mission.” Meaning you have to balance the budget before you can advance the mission. I would say, “no mission, no money.” For our institutions to be the best at what we have to offer, mission needs to be at the forefront. Jesuits took on ministries that no one else could. We don’t need to be in higher education unless we have something special to offer, and that’s our mission. So, we need to prioritize developing people and programs that emphasize that.

It’s also important for making ourselves viable in the marketplace. Ignatian pedagogy in the 21st century remains a cutting edge in higher education, teaching and learning strategy, that encourages excellence in and out of the classroom. There are plenty of good schools out there. So, why are we here if others can do it? It’s because we have something else to offer, something that our students and our world, need.

How are ICP participants encouraged to maintain the spirit of the program after completion? 
We encourage them to get involved on their campus in areas where mission is important, to connect with their local mission officers, and to gather with other ICP alumni on their campus a few times a year to deepen their learning and discuss opportunities for mission leadership. The ICP office also invites alumni to utilize the ICP directory to review mission projects for helpful suggestions, and to gather at our ICP alumni Summer Workshop. This year's workshop will be held on August 7-8 in Chicago, where the theme will be “Integrating ICP.” Finally, we challenge our alumni to be engaged with the network, to volunteer for new faculty orientation, mission days, or maybe even serve on a sub committee for their school's board of trustees.

Dr. Jeanne Lord with AJCU President Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J. (left) at Loyola University Chicago during the 2017 Jesuit Leadership Seminar (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jeanne Lord)

Dr. Jeanne Lord, Director of the Jesuit Leadership Seminar (JLS)

MW: How did the idea for JLS come about? 
JL: The Seminar started about fifteen years ago as the creation of the AJCU presidents, who recognized the need for a formation program for lay leaders at Jesuit colleges and universities. It was first led by Sr. Maureen Fay, OP, the former president of the University of Detroit Mercy. The presidents realized that engagement with Jesuit mission and identity should extend beyond the Jesuits and that formed lay leaders are key to the future of Jesuit education.

How did you become involved with JLS? What drew you to serve as Director?
AJCU's president, Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., invited me to get involved with the Seminar in 2014. I’ll admit that I was a little reluctant initially, but after our first meeting at a coffee shop across the street from the AJCU office, I never looked back.

What do you hope for participants to take away from the program?
I hope participants leave the Seminar with a few take-aways: a foundational knowledge of Ignatian history, pedagogy and spirituality, and how to integrate those into the concrete work of faculty and administrators; closer relationships with colleagues across the AJCU network (these relationships are life-giving and critical to the success of our work); and a sense of excitement, renewal and heightened commitment to our shared mission. The importance today of the values we transmit to our students – especially the call to be men and women for others – has never been more important.

Can you share a story about the impact that the Seminar has had on one of the participants? Or more broadly, at a Jesuit institution or in Jesuit higher education?
I have a number of good stories, so it’s hard to think of just one. But, here’s an example. We have tried to bring young Jesuits and Jesuits in formation into the Seminar whenever possible. One year, there was a gathering of Jesuits in formation at Loyola University Chicago. And so, we had morning liturgy together with them every day. They also joined us for a panel discussion and a communal dinner, where we told everyone to mix up their groups and sit with each other. You could just hear the connections being made. It was a dinner meant to be one hour, but ended up lasting for three hours. I have heard people relay stories of relationships that started at that dinner and have continued years later – such deep conversations. We are companions, not just colleagues. That memory stays with me.

In a time of tight budgets and many challenges for higher education, why is it important to prioritize a program like JLS?
I’m acutely aware of the competing demands on all of our schools, so this is something I think about a lot. Fortunately, we have been able to maintain a constant registration fee for as long as I can remember. I think the formation programs that the AJCU sponsors have never been more important, particularly as we see lay leadership increasing and our Jesuit “brand” is become more and more valuable in distinguishing our institutions in a competitive higher education landscape. We are very grateful for the support of the presidents as we continue this work.

For more information on the Ignatian Colleagues Program, please visit ignatiancolleagues.org. To learn more about this year's Jesuit Leadership Seminar (June 4-8, 2018 at Loyola University Chicago), please visit thejesuitleadershipseminar.com.