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Ignatian Colleagues Program

Ignatius Loyola

Chris Pacini

Christine Pacini, dean of UDM’s College of Health Professions and McAuley School of Nursing, with Fernando Cardenal, S.J.—a revered missionary in Nicaragua—at the Center for Global Education, Managua, Nicaragua.


View a video slideshow, created by Mark Latta—dean, Creighton University School of Dentistry—who was one of the pilgrims that traveled with Christine Pacini to Nicaragua.

National collaboration spreads Jesuit culture on campuses

When Pope Francis was elected the first Jesuit pope in March 2013, people around the world were drawn to his spirituality, compassion for the poor, commitment to social justice, as well as to his simple manner. These attributes reflect the principles of Society of Jesus founder St. Ignatius Loyola, and are rooted in his Spiritual Exercises.

But even prior to the election of a Jesuit pope, there has been a rising interest in knowing more about Ignatian spirituality.

Among the more notable groups of such interested people are lay people who work or teach at Jesuit-sponsored universities and colleges. As the number of Jesuit priests on campuses has decreased, it has become important for a growing number of administrators, staff, and faculty to deepen their lived experience of Ignatian prayer and discernment and, in the process, to transform the soul of Jesuit higher education in the United States.

In response to this issue, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities sponsors the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP) to more fully immerse administrators and faculty in the life and mission of Society of Jesus founder Ignatius Loyola. The Association consists of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities, including University of Detroit Mercy.

Now in its sixth year, ICP is an 18-month program that seeks to develop a national network of colleagues in Jesuit higher education who are capable of and committed to assuming leadership within the Ignatian spiritual and educational heritage and who will sustain their school’s Jesuit Catholic character into the future.

The program begins with a three-day orientation, and participants work through six online learning courses with readings and group discussions focused on Ignatian Spirituality for Jesuit Higher Education, Ignatian Humanism and Pedagogy, Faith, Secularity and Jesuit Education, A Faith that Does Justice, Catholicism and Jesuit Education, and Ignatian Discernment.

Colleagues also experience The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, often through a seven-day, silent directed retreat. They also participate in an eight-day immersion experience in either El Salvador or Nicaragua. Finally, in the 18th month of the program, a three-day intensive Capstone Experience takes place during which each participant presents a project that integrates elements of the Ignatian worldview with the participant’s work at her/his university.

Across the program’s six cohorts so far, over 250 Ignatian colleagues at Jesuit campuses around the country are being educated in a holistic approach about Ignatian spirituality even as they grow into a network of kindred spirits at many faculty and administrative levels.

UDM participants include Pam Zarkowski, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs; Steve Nelson, associate vice president of Human Resources; Christine Pacini, dean of the College of Health Professions and McAuley School of Nursing; Katy Snyder, associate dean, College of Engineering & Science; Monica Williams, dean, Student Life; Liz Patterson, associate vice president of Marketing & Public Affairs; and Anthony Neely, professor of Dentistry, who began the program this summer.

They are guided by UDM’s ICP coordinator John Staudenmaier, S.J., assistant to the president for Mission and Identity. Fr. Staudenmaier also directs Ignatian colleagues at one of the ICP Magis retreats each summer. He works closely with ICP National Director Ed Peck, based at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio.

“During this summer’s four-day Orientation Experience, ICP participants were fortunate to hear from Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, president of University of Detroit Mercy,” said Peck. “Dr. Garibaldi presented an inspiring session entitled: “Personal and Professional Reflections and Challenges of a Catholic University Administrator.” His presentation and the ensuing conversation enabled participants to think more broadly and inclusively about the catholicity that defines our schools, particularly in light of the Jesuit and Mercy traditions, not to mention that of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament who made such an impression on him at Xavier University of Louisiana.”  

According to Fr. Staudenmaier, the Ignatian Colleagues Program stems from a series of events that have been changing Jesuit universities for the past 45 years. In the mid-1960s, the Jesuits turned over the fiduciary responsibilities of their universities to boards of trustees. They no longer owned and operated the universities, but remained to serve as presidents, spiritual advisers and faculty.

“Through the first 40 years, lay trustees understood that they would care for the body of their university—fiscal health, operational integrity etc. When you talked about the soul of the university, that was the Jesuit president’s role,” Fr. Staudenmaier said. “In the past four years the number of Jesuit schools with non-Jesuit presidents went from two to nine. Two is an ignorable number; nine is not. Boards are beginning to recognize the likelihood that they will be choosing their best candidate from a pool made up mostly or completely of non-Jesuits. It is a radical change requiring a mentality shift of considerable magnitude.”

Around 2004, the directors of Mission and Identity for the Jesuit universities of Regis (Denver) Springhill (Mobile, Ala.) and Marquette (Milwaukee) began discussions for a proactive, large-scale succession plan, which became the Ignatian Colleagues Program. The ICP was developed to build closer alliances among colleagues across the national network and to instruct those colleagues in Jesuit principles so they can live and carry out the mission of Jesuit-based universities. The deep and broad dialogue that occurs in ICP probes the Jesuit identity and the relationship between academics and student character conversion.

For her immersion trip, College of Health Professions Dean Christine Pacini traveled to Nicaragua for seven days in June to see how the Jesuits influence daily life there. She was among a group of 20 colleagues led by the Center for Global Education, contracted by ICP. “We learned about the country and spent time with folks who are engaged with the Jesuits in many different ways,” said Pacini.

One of those Jesuits was Fernando Cardenal, S.J., a revered missionary who has dedicated his life to helping poor women and children climb out of poverty. Fr. Cardenal was instrumental in lifting the literacy rate in Nicaragua from 12 percent to 50 percent.

Pacini also visited the University of Central America. This Jesuit university houses a research and development institute (NITLAPAN) that helps poor citizens become self-sustaining by “incubating” their small businesses. “They might provide micro loans or purchase tools or supplies to get them started. Nothing is a handout, it’s an investment,” Pacini noted.  

Examples of businesses supported by NITLAPAN are a women’s coffee collective; a family-run pottery company that now employs others; and small food and farming enterprises. “As in the parable, the organization doesn’t give them the fish; rather, they provide appropriate start-up resources to teach them how to fish. For example, in the farming community, the organization has provided individuals with some chickens and, in return, have them ‘pay back’ with eggs or baby chicks that can keep the process continuing for others,” Pacini said.

Her group visited the Jesuit-founded Fey y Alegria Roberto Clemente School in Managua, which teaches approximately 1,400 elementary, high school and technical trades students. This particular school is one of several in Central America that provides children the required skills to succeed as adults and earn a living.

“It was an immersion trip—in stories, experiences, programs and people,” Pacini said. She notes the Jesuit educational mission in Nicaragua is to “further engage and enrich the development of university leaders in perpetuating the principle of caring for others.”

As part of the ICP experience, each colleague develops a capstone project relating his or her university work to Ignatian principles. For her project, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering & Science Katy Snyder is developing a program that centers on faculty and pedagogy, adapting materials received from an ICP colleague following the capstone meeting session.

“Some of the best discussions were in the capstone session. The level of trust and authentic sharing was amazing,” Snyder said. “Participants explored case studies that involved how to apply Jesuit discernment in tackling tough, real-life problems on campuses.”

In March and May 2013, Snyder helped plan two faculty retreats for the College of Engineering & Science—one on lamentation and the other on building the College’s vision as it prepares for strategic planning. “By showing how accessible Ignatian spirituality is to all religions, this sets the table for the type of discussions that need to come.”  

With approximately 65 faculty in the College, Snyder plans to use a combination of online sessions and workgroups to build rapport among different departments. Her efforts are supported by College of Engineering & Science Dean Gary Kuleck and Associate Dean Shuvra Das.

“As a University, we are already doing a lot of service learning,” she said. “I’d like to find additional ways to bring the Jesuit and Mercy influence into the classroom on a day-to-day basis.”

Snyder notes that one of the math professors takes her upper-level math students to a nearby grade school to tutor students. “The UDM students already understand math from a conceptual viewpoint, but tutoring younger students makes it even more meaningful to them,” Snyder said. “Giving our students the opportunity to understand how their gifts can be shared helps demonstrate how spirituality can be applied—instead of just thinking about it.”

She foresees embedding Jesuit pedagogy into specific subjects of the curricula. For example, Introduction to Programming teaches a skill set that could be expanded to include a segment on how different design decisions and project management choices have impacts (cultural, diversity, economic, etc.) on the people who use those systems or are affected by them.  “The Jesuits have been very forward-thinking about engaging the laity and empowering them to partner in sustaining this model of education,” Snyder added.

For Pacini’s capstone project, she is collaborating with UDM Provost Pam Zarkowski to more effectively document and measure faculty contributions that are congruent with Jesuit and Mercy principles and values. Pacini is also interested in setting up a “pop-up” retail outlet at UDM to sell goods made in Nicaragua, partnering with international Jesuit volunteers on mission trips, and raising more funds in support of various UDM mission trips.

Pacini sums up how Jesuit and Mercy principles impact students at UDM. “It’s more than educating, it is the process of transforming—the work of formation. Our students should be distinctive—and they are—because of the mission. If we don’t live that mission in how we instruct students and how we craft programs, our students will be informed but not formed.”

She added, “No matter what your religion is, our time here on earth is about love, accountability and responsibility; we all need to be present for others. We must attend to the sick, the ignorant and the poor; if we don’t take up that, then we are a Gatsby society—all flash and no meaning.“