Missioning Jesuits to Higher Education

By Scott Santarosa, S.J.

Editor's Note: This article is best read in relationship to David Power’s article on how to recruit Jesuits to Jesuit colleges and universities today.

When Fr. General Adolfo Nicolás visited Loyola Marymount University in 2008, he said something along these lines: “Do one thing and do it well, and the world will always need you.” Of course I do not abide by these words personally, as I am much more a jack-of-all-trades than a master of any one. But when I mission Jesuits to intellectual work, I recall that quotation. Both Pope Francis and Fr. General Arturo Sosa have likewise affirmed the same: The church and the world need us in this work.

Therefore, when crafting priorities that spring from our “Jesuits West Vision, Mission, and Values document” (2017), the California provincial Mike Weiler and I found it easy to state unambiguously the following as one of our five missioning priorities for Jesuits: “Assignments to advanced studies to add intellectual depth to our ministries or to lead to significant research and teaching.” When a Jesuit has the drive and ability to go for advanced studies, by and large I give him that mission.

I have not singled out our universities as I speak of intellectual work. That is because our history has been to provide deep thinking about matters in virtually every apostolate, university or other. One of the values in our province document that cuts across the works of all the province reads: “Responding with intellectual rigor to the most challenging issues of our times.” That is our call. That is where we are needed. Through intellectual work we are poised to make a unique and necessary contribution to our church, in our parishes, secondary schools, social ministries, and universities.

So, now let me address our universities, which are a centerpiece of our unique contribution to the church. The missioning of a Jesuit to a higher education institution is complex, because the very nature of our universities and colleges is increasingly complex. We can rarely do it the “old way,” which was that a Jesuit entering a university gained a tenure track position, earned tenure, and lived his life at that university happily ever after. First, in an increasingly competitive market, not that many Jesuits are able to land those limited tenure-track positions.

By the time Jesuits emerge from studies, they are often ten years older than most of their colleagues.But more important, a significant number of men do not aspire to do it in that way. While they may have specialized in a particular academic field, they do not want to limit their contributions to the scholarly research and writing needed for tenure. Instead, they want to exercise their priesthood more freely on our campuses. So, though some Jesuits do it the “old way,” we provincials are increasingly assigning Jesuits to universities with a broader mission, more like an adjunct faculty member or lecturer, where they certainly teach their classes with rigor but have an appointment that allows for a broader range of ministry. I often tell presidents and boards of trustees who are clamoring for Jesuits: “The more ways a Jesuit can be on your campus and make a contribution, the more Jesuits you will likely receive.” Even so, the number is limited. But that is true for all our works, and that is the subject of another article.

For now, suffice it to say that my hope is that, as the higher education sector attempts to change with the times, we Jesuits will also change along with it. My hope and expectation is that we will still be in it because I remain steadfast in my belief that the church and the world need us in this important work.

Scott Santarosa, S.J., is currently in his second year as provincial of the new Jesuits West Province. From 2014 to 2017 he was provincial of the former Oregon Province.

The cover photo is featured courtesy of Loyola Marymount University.