AJCU Ignatian Colleagues Program: Deepening the Bench for Mission

By Joseph DeFeo

When I see ICP participants or graduates working together on sustainability projects, writing texts on Ignatian pedagogy, calling on each other’s expertise, making public statements on immigration, or forming other faculty and staff, it seems clear that the experience has taken root.
— Stephanie Russell, AJCU Vice President for Mission Integration.

As the AJCU Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP) begins its 10th year of forming lay leaders for mission, a review indicates much to celebrate: 11 cohorts, over 500 senior-level administrators and faculty participants including three university presidents. The current cohort of 59 from 26 institutions and Loyola Press is the largest to date. Originally conceived and launched in the Heartland Delta region, ICP is now a program of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU). Indicative of its progress and success, ICP was recently highlighted as a model national program for formation in Ignatian leadership at the 2018 Assembly in Bilbao, Spain.

Participants in ICP have witnessed the reality of the poor and the call for justice through their international immersion experience. They have explored their faith life through a seven-day Ignatian silent retreat. They have created several hundred mission-centered projects or programs, orientations, course adjustments, physical spaces, and signage for their home institution. Some have focused on enrollment, migration, and strategic planning. One project led to the university signing on to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investing, and another to a digital Environmental Science textbook and award bestowed personally by Pope Francis! (See all participants and mission projects here).

The founders of ICP knew well that because the very survival of the Jesuit and Catholic mission and identity of our institutions was at stake, meaningful intellectual and affective experiences over an extended period of time would be required to provide depth and breadth to one’s formation. Ten years later, responses from current leaders confirm their insights:

“It takes a program like ICP to ensure the understanding of, and engagement with, our traditions that give our (Jesuit) slogans depth of meaning. By attending to spiritual formation and providing immersive experiences, ICP ensures that lay leaders can walk the walk and carry forward a nearly half-century-old tradition of transformative education.” — John Sebastian, Vice President for Mission, Loyola Marymount University

“All of our participants have expressed how great a gift it was to them, the best thing our university had given them, by way of support and development…ICP balances, goes beyond and more at depth, what each of our universities is able to do on the local level by way of Ignatian formation programs.” — Steve Sundborg, S.J., President, Seattle University

“ICP is the gold standard for formation in Ignatian spirituality and important for the education of lay leaders. Participants are prepared to create a dynamic and generative dialogue between our Jesuit, Catholic identity and the intellectual and spiritual dimensions of our institution. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have completed the ICP while serving as the President of our College. I received immense value from the program, and at the same time, I now speak with clarity and assurance about the value of the ICP experience with all members of our learning community.” — Linda LeMura, President, Le Moyne College

Cost vs. Return on Investment

ICP seeks to have all 28 schools participate. It does all it can to financially assist those in need. The program is generously supported by the Jesuit Conference of the United States and Canada. It provides financial assistance through the support of the rectors of Jesuit communities (HERO Fund) to schools that are financially challenged. Regarding the return on investment, Rev. Tom Curran, S.J., president of Rockhurst University, shared, “Because we are a smaller institution with fewer resources than some others, we need to be both judicious and strategic in our identification of and invitation for participants.… In short, the return on our investment and the program’s investment in us has been nothing short of remarkable and transformative for the participants as well as our University community.”

“Put Me in, Coach…”

Ignatian Colleagues are among some of the most mission minded persons on our campuses and are prime candidates for Institutional Examen review teams, mission officer, trustee, and university president positions. In addition to relying on their individual contributions, institutions could reap more benefits by “leveraging” ICP graduates as a community of mission-centered leaders. Collectively, these groups of Ignatian Colleagues could be very helpful in providing mission-focused decision making on major issues, strategic planning, hiring, and the like.

Some schools have begun this process. Spring Hill College Chancellor Greg Lucey S.J., writes, “ICP alumni are my go-to people as facilitators for orientation of new personnel, Ignatian Seminar and Ignatian Senior Reflection Groups.” At Xavier University, ICP alumni/ae develop and facilitate a three-part, winter lunchtime retreat for faculty, staff, and administrators, which is popular and highly attended. Debra Mooney, Xavier’s vice president for mission, notes, “the retreat is a clear and fruitful way that Xavier’s ICP participants demonstrate the impact of the Program in advancing their leadership capacity on our campus and within the Jesuit higher education community.”

Challenges to Mission

For many years, the Society of Jesus has been inviting lay persons to take up the yoke of mission leadership, and, thankfully, many have accepted that invitation. Still, many more are needed until a critical mass of mission-deep leaders populates our campuses. Those lay persons who have made mission their vocation and professional career find that positions are few. New and more collaborative paradigms and senior-level mission-directed positions are needed during these times.

Mission is the very standard that defines educational excellence and whole-person development more fully than any other. A continual challenge is how to make the Jesuit and Catholic mission, Ignatian spirituality, pedagogy, charism, and all the primary lens from which our institutions function. And how do we do so, not out of duty or tradition but through the freedom that serious reflection and appropriation bring? Moving forward, ICP hopes to keep deepening the bench of mission leadership on every campus.

Joseph DeFeo, Ph.D., located on the Fairfield University campus, is the executive director of the Ignatian Colleagues Program. The cover photo is from the ICP Nicaragua Immersion.