Self-Care is Cura Personalis

By Jill Yashinsky-Wortman

The term cura personalis is Latin for “care for the whole person” meaning that care should be exercised for all aspects of one’s being.  Interestingly, Jesuit history shows that this term may not have been first applied in perpetuity until the 1900’s, long after St. Ignatius’ passing.  Cura Personalis was highlighted in a document entitled “The Characteristics of Jesuit Education” published by the International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education.  In this document, the following is included:

“Teachers and administrators, both Jesuit and lay, are more than academic guides. They are involved in the lives of the students, taking a personal interest in the intellectual, affective, moral and spiritual development of every student. . . They are ready to listen to their cares and concerns about the meaning of life, to share their joys and sorrows, to help them with personal growth and interpersonal relationships. . . They try to live in a way that offers an example to the students, and they are willing to share their own life experiences. ‘Cura personalis’ (concern for the individual person) remains a basic characteristic of Jesuit education.”

Often, we talk about this idea of cura personalis for our students—care for all aspects of who they were, who they are now, and who they are becoming. Yet, somehow in the busy-ness of our day-to-day on college and university campuses, we forgot and sometimes intentionally neglect to care for ourselves.  This shows up in many ways—the rushed conversations, checking of technology constantly, answering emails after hours, exclamations of how busy our schedules are filled with back to back meetings, and a thousand other things, spoken and unspoken.  When we operate in these ways, we fail to live in a way that offers an example of a life lived with self-care to our students.    

The support and care we provide is not mutually exclusive to students, but also to the care we give to each other and ourselves as human beings.  St. Ignatius was so concerned about Jesuits taking care of their own well-being that he emphasized it in the Constitutions, the foundational documents that guide all Jesuits. St. Ignatius wrote,

“Due consideration and prudent care should be employed toward preserving in their vocation those who are being kept and tested in the houses or colleges, and toward enabling them to make progress, both in spirit and in virtues along the path of the divine service, in such a manner that there is also proper care for the health and bodily strength necessary to labor in the Lord’s vineyard.”

In fact, in a letter from Ignatius’ secretary to a Jesuit who was working too hard, he wrote:

“Even though situations sometimes occur where an extra exertion is unavoidable, he should nevertheless not deprive himself of sleep by spending the night in prayer or staying up much of the night, as those close to him report to us he is doing. What holds for sleep applies also to diet and whatever else is needed, as I have said, for the preservation of health. Moderation has staying power; what puts excessive strain on the body cannot last. Understand, then, that Father General’s mind on this matter is that, in whatever spiritual, academic, or even bodily exertions you undertake, your charity should be guided by the rule of discretion; that you should safeguard the health of your own body in order to aid your neighbors’ souls; and that in this matter each of you should look out for the other, indeed, for both of you.”

The work we do with students is highly engaging, important, busy, tiring, and at times, emotional. We strive to do our jobs to the best of our ability; to do that, we need to keep ourselves physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually healthy in a way that empowers us to bring our best selves for our students and colleagues day after day.  Our work can consume us—we must make conscious, active choices to not let it.

As colleagues in Jesuit higher education, may we hold a shared commitment to call ourselves and each other to self-care.  How can we strive to find new and creative ways to model personal and professional balance? We are called to be as inventive as possible to identify, cultivate, and maintain a culture of balance.  How do we create lives that model this balance and serve as examples for our students of well-lived lives, rich with an investment in proper care of self so that we can give proper care to others?

Jill Yashinsky-Wortman is the Director of the Center for Cura Personalis at Gonzaga University.

The cover photo is featured courtesy of Gonzaga University