By Edward W. Schmidt, SJ
I was out for an afternoon walk some years ago, heading north on Clark Street in my Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. I wasn’t paying much attention to the very familiar scenery. A sudden voice broke my reverie: “There’s a man on a mission!” I looked up to see a young man who had visited our Company magazine offices with a friend who worked with us. They had graduated from Marquette together. And Steve had clearly picked up our Jesuitspeak.
A decade earlier, the 32d General Congregation declared that a Jesuit “is essentially a man on a mission.” It was not a new concept; but the formulation was succinct. Clearly it had caught on.
“Mission” entered my vocabulary in early grade school, when we passed around a container with a slit in the top for us to put in our pennies and nickels to support priests and religious going to a foreign country to convert the locals. We were giving to the missions.
Also, one of our Dominican sisters referred to her own mission – moving to another parish to teach people like us. We were missions? Were we that exotic?
As school years passed, I learned other usages of “mission.” Military expeditions were missions. Embassies or other representations in a foreign land might be called missions. And with the airing of the popular “Mission: Impossible” for TV seasons 1966 to 1973, the word was on everyone’s lips, especially quoting the line: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it….” These missions were dangerous, vital, and always accepted.
The same Jesuit document quoted above concluded “that today the Jesuit is a man whose mission is to dedicate himself entirely to the service of faith and the promotion of justice.” This conjunction of faith and justice caught on. And it quickly came to be seen not as some special preserve of the Jesuits but as an ideal to be pursued by the schools and parishes and spiritual centers and foreign missions associated with Jesuits. Later documents have developed this basic idea.
The term “missionary” has taken on a new nuance. A new report to the bishops’ conference uses it to denote recent college graduates who serve in campus ministry but without a degree in ministry. “They emphasize relationship and serve Catholic students through one-on-one mentoring, small group Bible studies or community households.”
A school has to be about learning, of course. But learning encompasses more than classrooms and credits, books read and papers written. It involves relationships and personal growth. And a Jesuit school involves commitment to the wider world and a society that cares for the weak, the least, the outcast, the struggler. It involves Father Kolvenbach’s challenge to Jesuit colleges and universities: “an educated solidarity” with the poor and oppressed.
The mission statements of Jesuit schools articulate this wider perspective. They speak to what each school is about, but they also connect Jesuit schools with each other in purpose and outlook. Jesuit faculties can share their ideals. The students from many Jesuit schools can talk to each other – as at the Ignatian Family Teach-In – using common language and symbols. They get the mission.
The mission of a Jesuit school is not always easy. But, as the stories in this issue of Conversations clearly show, a dedicated core of people who believe in it and invite the whole school community to work for it can make it happen.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it….” Yes, that mission is a nonstop challenge. That mission is a reward. And that mission is possible, very possible indeed.
The cover photo is featured courtesy of Brie Gromoter of the Flickr Creative Commons.