A Hidden Gem of Ignatian Leadership at Santa Clara University

By David B. Feldman, with Deborah Lohse, Santa Clara University

 David B. Feldman (Photo courtesy of SanTa Clara University)

David B. Feldman (Photo courtesy of SanTa Clara University)

In today’s world, we are given many messages that our spiritual and professional lives should be kept separate — preferably with a thick wall between them. Luckily for Santa Clara University, in 2002, a beloved professor of business organization saw a need and an opportunity to help faculty scale this wall by tapping into the rich resources of the University’s Ignatian roots.

The result was the Ignatian Faculty Forum (IFF), which is sponsored by the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara University. 

The late André Delbecq began IFF sixteen years ago, by inviting faculty to a program that combines the best available techniques from business and organizational psychology with principles of Ignatian spirituality. Small groups of ten, plus two faculty facilitators (of which I am one), meet for one four-hour session per month for an academic year. The confidential and intimate program has helped more than twenty-five percent of our full-time faculty develop themselves professionally, personally and spiritually. 

And you don’t have to take my word for it. In a recent survey of IFF participants, eighty-five percent reported experiencing an increased sense of community among their University colleagues. Seventy-four percent reported that IFF assisted them in integrating spiritual practices into their lives. Eighty-four percent reported increased commitment to cura personalis in their relations with colleagues. And, seventy-nine percent said that IFF had a strong impact on their current roles and their willingness to step up to leadership roles within the university. In short: it’s working. 

Origins of IFF
Professor Delbecq was an acclaimed pioneer in his field. He conceived the idea for IFF while working with Catholic healthcare systems that were consolidating. He helped them to address questions like ‘What makes us Catholic? What makes us different? And how can we preserve our values in the context of a world that is constantly pushing us to make more money?’ 

He believed very strongly that not only could the individuals in these organizations be made stronger, happier, and more productive by connecting with their deepest spiritual convictions and motivations, but that the organizations could benefit as well. He also saw this as a need at Catholic and Jesuit universities like Santa Clara. 

Meeting Structure
The IFF’s structure is key to its success, inviting participants to engage the mind, heart and spirit in equal measures. IFF monthly meetings are divided roughly in half: The first half begins with lighting the ‘the candle of confidentiality,’ signaling the emotional safety of the meeting environment. After reading through and briefly meditating on a few quotes drawn from the Ignatian spiritual tradition, we engage in brief check-ins, with each participant spending a couple of minutes catching up the rest of the group on what has transpired in his or her professional and spiritual lives during the past month.

The majority of the first half of the meeting is then spent discussing readings that encourage reflection on aspects of Ignatian spirituality. Among our many readings, participants discuss selections from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by Rev. James Martin, S.J., as well as a lecture by Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, titled, “The Service of Faith and Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Education.” We also reflect on readings about the particular mission of Santa Clara written by Rev. Paul Crowley, S.J., Rev. Mark Ravizza, S.J. and Professor Tracey Kahan, among others. 

While we always have readings that are strictly Ignatian, we also try to incorporate content that allows us to widen the message to faculty members who are not Catholic. Some are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or of other faiths; some are agnostic or atheist. It is important for us to honor the many facets of diversity among participants. One important aspect of IFF is that it doesn’t ask people to be anything other than who they are, but rather to reflect on how the Ignatian tradition speaks to their unique lives.

Each month we cover a different theme: finding God in all things, Ignatian indifference, and Ignatian discernment, to name a few. Participants thus develop their sense of what Ignatian spirituality is in a gradual fashion. Faculty are encouraged not only to honor their minds but also their hearts and souls in the discussion. IFF facilitators encourage participants to ask themselves questions such as, “How does this connect with my life?” and “How do I see myself in this?” 

After a simple meal of soup, bread and fruit, faculty are invited to write on a large poster board any current challenges or concerns in their lives that they might value speaking about with the group. The second half of the meeting is then spent discussing these challenges, which the other participants and IFF facilitators help them to think through in a distinctly Ignatian way.

Faculty members evolve over the course of the year. Often starting ‘in their heads,’ they might ask, “Tell me the steps in Ignatian spirituality?” But Ignatian spirituality teaches one to connect one's head with one's heart and one's soul and one’s spirit. Over time, participants often engage more fully with the discernment process, encountering the movements of spirit within, and helping others to do the same. They quickly realize that this is not an Ignatian book club.

Additional Leadership Programs
Many more Ignatian leadership opportunities are offered by Santa Clara:

As a devout person of Jewish faith, I have found it very rewarding to participate in this special program, which works hard to bring people together, to give them a sense of what it means to work at a Jesuit institution, and to allow all of us to truly experience our shared values.

David B. Feldman is chair of Santa Clara University’s Department of Counseling Psychology and the J. Thomas and Kathleen L. McCarthy Professor of Counseling Psychology. He is the coordinator and one of four faculty facilitators of the Ignatian Faculty Forum. He can be reached at dbfeldman@scu.edu. Deborah Lohse is assistant director of media and internal communications at Santa Clara.