By Ashley H. Rains, Assistant Director of Alumni and Development, Spring Hill College
It is a common struggle in Advancement: How do we engage alumni in our college’s mission…now and for life? Certainly that promise or mission statement is only meant for students, faculty and staff – those who are the working veins of a vivacious college campus.
Or is it?
At Spring Hill College (SHC), the Office of Alumni Programs is working diligently to keep the mission statement of the school as a consistent factor in alumni engagement. This spring, the National Alumni Association hosted three Ignatian Formation Retreats for alumni in Atlanta, GA, New Orleans, LA and Mobile, AL. The day-long events were facilitated by Rev. Gregory F. Lucey, S.J. and Dr. Matthew Baugh, S.J., Spring Hill College chancellor and professor, respectively.
The mission of Spring Hill College is “forming leaders engaged in learning, faith, justice and service for life” and resonates throughout the SHC community, whether on campus or through the College’s alumni. “Formation is the heart of Jesuit education. And that is what these retreats are all about – letting ourselves be formed by God, whatever stage of life we happen to be in,” said Dr. Baugh. “You really get to see our promise statement at work in these retreats, where alums in their 20s mix with those in their 50s and 70s. We really mean formation for life!”
The inspiration for the events this past spring came after an inaugural retreat initiated by Fr. Lucey and Dr. Baugh in March 2015 at Loyola University New Orleans featuring a discussion on “Finding God in All Things” with approximately 40 participants. The retreat left those who attended invigorated and eager to learn more, do more and be more: the philosophy of Magis.
So where did we go from there? When Pope Francis called for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in December 2015, it seemed clear where attention and action should be directed with respect to helping SHC alumni with formation. Fr. Lucey said, “There is a real hunger among [Spring Hill College] alumni for opportunities to enrich their spirituality by engaging in guided reflection and in service."
Thus the Ignatian Formation Retreats were developed to explore how we, as Catholics, understand, experience and show mercy. SHC alumni, parents, friends and their spouses were invited to gather for a day of reflection including periods of quiet time for meditation, prayer, self-reflection and renewal, all facilitated by Fr. Lucey and Dr. Baugh.
Keeping these formation retreats relevant to today’s practicing Catholics was also of great importance when planning the events. Fr. Lucey said, “It is clear that Pope Francis is having a significant effect on the lives of [so many] people.” Does it benefit the formation retreat that our dynamic Pope is a Jesuit? Fr. Lucey answered, “It helps that he is a Jesuit and such a model of Ignatian spirituality."
Tori McRoberts, a 2006 SHC graduate from New Orleans was instrumental in shaping the inaugural event as well as the continuation of the retreat into 2016. What gave her the push to make sure the retreats thrived? She said, “The opportunity to revisit the mission as an alum creates a space where we can reflect on the way we live out that mission, share our experiences with fellow alumni, and challenge ourselves to do even more to become leaders engaged in learning, faith, justice and service for life."
Like Dr. Baugh, McRoberts was thrilled and surprised by the great response to the retreats from SHC alumni. She said, “Though we are in various phases of our lives, our Spring Hill experience offers a sense of solidarity that enables us to relate and connect, overcoming any differences that might otherwise be perceived as barriers to building strong relationships."
The retreat attendees were not the only ones who came away from the retreats refreshed and eager. Both Fr. Lucey and Dr. Baugh expressed enthusiasm about the passion shown by alumni for these formation opportunities. “To me, the most striking thing about these retreats is that the impetus came from the alumni,” said Dr. Baugh. “We asked them what they wanted from alumni programming, and they said more spiritual formation. That tells me that our folks understand the College's mission at a very deep level and how central they are to realizing it.”
Again, where do we go from here? It is clear that Spring Hill alumni crave the spiritual nourishment provided to them by the College as students. McRoberts said that being on campus as a student made it “much easier to focus on living out the mission of the College because it was reinforced in the classroom, dining hall, residence halls and ball fields.” The wide variety in demographics of the retreat attendees shows that the College is clearly consistent in carrying out its mission statement beyond graduation.
The two words closing the College's mission statement, “for life,” are what drive SHC alumni to continue to develop and enrich their faith. A dependent and unfailing Jesuit atmosphere on campus is most certainly being carried into and throughout the lives of those who come to Spring Hill College.