Jesuit Examen Process: Consoling and Stimulating

By James Miracky, S.J.

Do you want to continue to be a Jesuit, Catholic University?
If so, what are the two to four mission goals (and accompanying strategies) that you will prioritize for the next few years?

With these two questions, posed by the Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, the previous Jesuit Superior General, 22 of 28 AJCU colleges and universities have entered into the Jesuit Mission Priority Examen (or MPE, as it has been dubbed in “acronym-ese”), a five-year pilot process of assessment and affirmation of mission sponsored by the Society of Jesus to strengthen its bond to the AJCU schools and better partner with them in supporting our common apostolate in higher education.

Using the AJCU document “Some Characteristics of Jesuit Higher Education,” originally published in 2010 as an informal self-study guide, each school has engaged in its own Jesuit, Catholic mission-focused process employing such tools as mission-data collection and assessment, focus group discussions, task force meetings and retreats, campuswide surveys, and conversations with the local bishop and local Jesuit community. Many schools have directly engaged the spirit and techniques of the Jesuit examen to reflect on lights and shadows, strengths and areas for growth in their embodiment of mission.

In general, the process has been both informative to and formative for campus communities as they have connected across all areas of the institution to share the ways they embody Jesuit and Catholic tradition and values in their work. In many ways, some unexpected, the schools have been consoled by what is already being done for the sake of the mission. The institutions’ open and humble taking stock of directions in which they would like to grow has surfaced key mission priorities and a renewed sense of commitment to the work.

The review team’s visit has fostered a similar experience of consolation and collaboration in each school. Composed of four colleagues from other Jesuit schools who were chosen to incorporate a diversity of experience and expertise, each review team has taken an appreciative and discerning approach to the self-study results and the on-campus visit. In their assessment of the AJCU characteristics and the institution’s mission priorities, these colleagues have shared their home institution’s best practices, helped refine the proposed priorities, and suggested first steps toward implementation. The process has by no means been one-sided, however; in return for their sharing of expertise, the team members have brought back to their own campuses a deeper appreciation of our shared mission in Jesuit higher education and new ideas for deepening their own mission engagement.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mission priorities chosen by the schools that have completed the examen thus far have much in common. Among the most frequently chosen priorities are expanding and deepening mission-formation opportunities and fostering greater diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. Other shared priorities include developing more consistent and effective policies for hiring-for-mission, better coordinating community-engaged learning opportunities and deepening the experience of reflection in such experiences, and inviting and fostering a stronger Jesuit corporate presence on campus.

Because this is a pilot program, it has been a work in progress over the past four years and has been overseen by a joint ACJU/Jesuit Conference Coordinating Committee, which has met at the end of each year to assess and refine the MPE process. As the number of schools that have participated has grown, the committee has been able to identify good/better/best practices for each stage of the process and has passed on suggestions to the schools participating after them. To provide a helpful map through the process, the AJCU created an examen website that is now available for general use.

Once the final AJCU schools undergo the examen process in the 2019-2020 academic year, the coordinating committee anticipates doing a full assessment of the pilot cycle of MPEs, with a view toward creating a proposal for a more permanent mechanism to assess and affirm our common mission. Also, since the characteristics document will be 10 years old next year, there is talk of having the AJCU and Jesuit Conference review and revise it in light of the results of the examen process and the resulting mission priorities, as well as the changing landscape of higher education. Among the topics that could be incorporated into a new document, or even become a separate characteristic, are diversity , equity , and inclusion; sustainability; and alumni engagement.

Although one should never announce the results of an experiment before the beta phase is complete, to date the on-the-ground experience of the Jesuit MPEs has certainly surpassed the expectations of the coordinating committee and offered great hope for the present and future of Jesuit, Catholic higher education in AJCU schools.

James J. Miracky, S.J., is the provincial assistant for higher education for the Northeast and Maryland Provinces of the Jesuits. He began his career in Jesuit higher education as an English professor at the College of the Holy Cross, eventually serving there as the chair of the English department and then as associate dean for faculty development before moving on to become the dean of Loyola College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Maryland.