A New Vision for Cura Apostolica

By John Topel, S.J.

Although cura personalis is quite visible in recent Jesuit university mission statements, care for the apostolate was foremost in Ignatius’ thought. The founding documents of the Society of Jesus in the 1540s incarnate his emphasis. The purpose of the annual account of conscience that a Jesuit makes to his provincial is not to develop a Jesuit’s spirituality but to determine to what mission his spirituality fits him. The Jesuit Constitutions understand the work of universities as developing the knowledge and love of God for the leavening of the social order.

This leavening was easier to do in a Christian culture, but as societies became more diverse, the role of Jesuit apostolates became cloudier; and so in the 20th century cura apostolica came into Jesuit discourse. It reached legislative expression only in General Congregation 35 (2008), where it is yoked with cura personalis as “the principles of unity of governance.” As cura personalis demands a humanistic and scientific education to create whole persons, cura apostolica orients our universities to grapple with today’s vital society issues.

Since the 1980s, Jesuit universities have identified the leavening of the social order as their mission. Terms like social justice, the betterment of society, leadership in a global society, empowering leaders for a just and humane world, and the service of faith and the promotion of justice are at the core of Jesuit mission statements.

But the actual delivery of the Jesuit mission may lie more in the area of cura personalis than in delivering change agents for our world. In an increasingly secular, technological, and urbanized world, we entice our students with claims of more money and secure jobs. Then the Jesuit university humanistic core tries to develop in them not only critical thinking but also compassion for human plight. Service learning deepens that perspective, makes them desire to help, and may lead to years of service for the oppressed and marginalized. Campus ministry and theology may put faith foundations under that service. All this is personal gain, but it may seem more like Band Aids for a mortally wounded society rather than the required surgery. What the reign of God needs today is not “love sweet love” but wholesale reform of the way we think and live.

Suppose our Jesuit universities’ STEM disciplines and engineering schools took as their goal the development of renewable sources of energy – solar, wind, geothermal, tidal. Suppose each had at least a minor in interdisciplinary study of natural energies, some had a master’s degree in development engineering, and at least three had Ph.D. programs in renewable energy. If these universities actually collaborated with each other, a great change could be made in our cosmos.

Or suppose our economists and business schools took as their goal the development of a new international economic order, not the NIEO of the United Nations General assembly in 1974 but one oriented to economic and holistic human development. It could show the rationale for restructuring trade relations, refinancing unjust debts, evolving some national control over multinational corporations, requiring new developments in international law, and so reducing the need to emigrate. Further, it would require collaboration not only of American Jesuit universities but also of Jesuit universities and intellectual centers in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia, and Rome and throughout Europe. Only the Society of Jesus can have such formal international university linkages.

Finally, the humanities of our universities would develop a contemporary version of an international common good, indispensable for any international cooperation. In our complex world, this would require collaboration of all our departments of arts and sciences, especially anthropology, economics, literary study of cultures, philosophy, and theology as well as of our professional schools. Our multiversities would once again become universities.

Undoubtedly, critics will call such ideas blue skies. Whence would we get professors whose interests go beyond their narrower research and teaching competencies? Whence administrators with this vision and ability to communicate it to faculty and students? Above all, whence the funding?

But Jesus was a blue-sky thinker, and so was Ignatius. Some blue-skyers, like Ignatius, can descend to details; others can inspire others to develop the details. It is blue sky that moves us beyond our “culture of superficiality.” The blue sky of the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin still attracts; the Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan’s “aiming excessively high and far” can overcome “the inhumanly inept structures” of contemporary state-ism and liberalism. Ignatius would have us believe that if the thirst and the vision are there, universities can get funding from philanthropists and foundations increasingly concerned about our civilization’s decline.

Blue skies at  Seattle University .

Blue skies at Seattle University.

The virtue of such grand goals is that we can no longer rely on our human initiatives, but must rely on the sources of faith, hope, and love resident through God’s grace in all of us, atheist and theist. Such cura apostolica leads us inevitably to our conjoint faith-filled cura personalis in the holistic development of our graduates, our professors, and our administrators.

Students and professors whose interests are stretched beyond short-term personal gains to long term social solutions are personally enriched. For this enrichment the resources of our Catholic faith are preeminent. In a greater world, Jesuits and their lay colleagues will find new meanings for the terms magis, universal good, discernment. And we would be universities for whom ad majorem Dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God) is more than an acronym on our entrance portals.

Is this unattainable blue sky, or to what the Glory of God is calling us today?

After 32 years of academic administration and teaching biblical studies and 13 years as a pastor, John Topel is now the Jesuit assistant to the law school dean at Seattle University.