Mary-Antoinette Smith, PhD, installed as Reverend Louis Gaffney, S.J., Chair

November 22, 2018

Professor Mary-Antoinette Smith, PhD, was installed as the Reverend Louis Gaffney, S.J., Chair on October 30.

This endowed chair is made possible by the Jesuit community at Seattle University and promotes issues germane to the Jesuit mission and identity of the faith that does justice and supports the Jesuit ideal of teaching.

Dr. Smith earned her doctorate in 18th and 19th Century British Literature from the University of Southern California and has been an SU faculty member for twenty-five years. Her classes incorporate the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm (context, experience, reflection, action, evaluation) and they, along with her scholarship, emphasize race, class, gender and sexuality theory that moves towards praxis in the Jesuit social justice tradition. A professed member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, she has been deeply influenced by all-things Ignatian while making countless retreats, including the 30-Day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the nine-month Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL); and, as a trained Ignatian Spiritual Director, she practices “holy” listening and “wholly” listening—two skills which inform and enrich her Gaffney Gatherings.

Download this flyer with information about planned Gaffney Gatherings through 2020.

Smith shared these remarks at the installation.

It is with an abiding respect for the charge of the Reverend Louis Gaffney Chair as one that specifically promotes "issues germane to the Jesuit mission and identity of Seattle University" that I am so honored to be installed for this endowed chair. The values upon which it is founded mirror the makeup of my career as a professor, scholar, administrator, and spiritually evolving person for others in the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and I am honored to bring innovative visions, enthusiastic energies, and passionate programming via my proposed theme of Tender Mercies: Moving from a Kaírós of Mercy to Creating the Beloved Community for a Just and Humane World.

While reflecting on the responsibilities required of this appointment I thought back to the response I wrote to our university mission in preparation for coming to campus twenty-three years ago. I opened with a scriptural epigraph: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48). I had a vague vision at the time of what I hoped might materialize from my future as part of our community but had no notion of the sure fit that has resulted from the interweaving of my vocational academic life and my avocational spiritual life here over the past two decades. Our university and the College of Arts and Sciences have offered much in terms of my professional development, spiritual formation, and opportunities to be of local and global service, and being appointed the Reverend Louis Gaffney Chair offers a means for paying this forward.

As the holder of this chair I bring a thorough commitment to its specific focus of promoting "issues germane to the Jesuit mission and identity of Seattle University." The integral Ignatian nature of how this is enacted in all I do as a member of our campus, local, national, and global communities has been noted in an invited interview I did for U.S. Catholic Magazine, titled Balancing Act: Finding a Work-Faith Balance (February 2016), for which the tagline read: “Professor Mary-Antoinette Smith believes that working for justice means finding a way to balance the professional, personal, and spiritual.” While reading this article I recognized in myself how the multiple aspects of my work and spiritual life combine to holistically resonate with the values-based Jesuit ethos of the Gaffney Chair.

With all narcissism aside, I feel particularly qualified at this point in career to hold this chair because my professional qualities, spiritual charisms, and service activities reflect my ability to enact the charge of this chair for the following reasons:

As a professor and scholar, I have a passionate commitment for the holistic development of my students that is reflected by my intentional incorporation of the five elements of the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm—context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation—into a broad range of courses, including: Human Spirituality and the Life of the Mind; Oppressive Stratifications:Race, Class, and Gender in Eighteenth-Century British Literature; Transformative Tribulations in British Literary Works; Encountering Intercultural Literature; Black and White Allies for a Just and Humane World; Thinking Globally/Acting Locally: Cultural Pluralism across the United States; A Twist in Expectations: Intersectional Approaches to Adapting Dickens for Diverse Demographics; and The London Eye: Engaged Gazing for Social Justice Abroad in Britain.

Covers from publications featuring the work of Dr. Mary-Antoinette SmithPedagogically, these courses align with our institutional promise to “celebrat[e] educational excellence achieved through diversity” and to cultivate “a concern for justice and the competence to promote it,” while intentionally stewarding students through Jesuit educational practices.

My scholarly focus complements my teaching by reflecting a sustained interest in the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, social justice advocacy, and more, from the eighteenth century to the present; and my research agenda is interdisciplinary, globally inclusive in its reach across time periods and transatlantic borders, and deliberatively incorporates themes of transformative social change in the Jesuit tradition.

As Gaffney Chair I am offering opportunities for faculty, staff, and students, to participate in workshops which draw upon strategies motivated by the goal of merciful/transformative self and social change which have proven successful in my classroom. While emphasizing the Ignatian principle of cura personalis (inclusive of self-care, community care, and glocal [global/local] care) these workshops will engage participants in the practice of Ignatian discernment as we navigate the inevitable consolations and desolations requisite for true self and societal transformation for the common good. Productive end-goals include (1) faculty participants developing course syllabi more overtly reflective of the Jesuit pedagogical paradigm; (2) increased merciful understanding interactions across campus between faculty, staff, and administrators; (3) more merciful and meaningful student-to-student interactions (particularly for those experiencing marginalization and those yearning to be allies); and (4) other transformational social exchanges reaching beyond our campus environs—locally, nationally, globally.

As an administrator, and in my current role as Director of the Sullivan Leadership Program, I bring a passion for serving administratively and communally in my stewardship of 34 Sullivan Scholars in their formation as leaders for a just and humane world, specifically through the five pillars of our program—academic excellence, leadership and service, global engagement, spirituality, community—all of which reflect my own commitments as a professor, scholar, administrator, and one richly influenced by the Jesuit ethos. Working with our Sullivan Scholars is one of the most rewarding experiences and highlights of my career to date, and I feel very fortunate, indeed, to be so richly engaged with them. I have also served for six years as Director of Women and Gender Studies, an interdisciplinary program which promotes social justice advocacy in keeping with our institutional mission and the Gaffney charge. Of all departments and programs on campus, it is the Women and Gender Studies program which consistently reflects the our university’s social justice mission, particularly in ways that move from theory to praxis—and the good work done my WGST faculty and students shows up visibly and tangibly locally, nationally, and globally as we speak, and I am honored to hold affiliate faculty status in our program. Administratively, I also continue to serve as Executive Director of the National Association for Women in Catholic Higher Education (NAWCHE).  In this role I oversee all aspects of the operations of this national organization, including planning our Making Connections conferences. To date we have hosted two successful on-campus NAWCHE gatherings on the themes Sustaining the Earth, the Self, and Women in Catholic Higher Education (2011) and The Welcome Table—Interfaith Women in Dialogue in Catholic Higher Education Conferences.

As the Gaffney Chair I will support participants of my gatherings in sharing and making visible our engagement and learning by inviting them to offer papers and roundtable discussions drawn from my Gaffney theme at the next NAWCHE Conference on the theme of Discerning Women and Our Allies in Catholic Higher Education (planned for Spring 2020). This conference will specifically feature the Ignatian principle of discernment as it pertains to desolations and consolations experienced in academic life (particularly by those experiencing oppression, othering, minoritization, disempowerment, silencing on their campuses, etc.) who seek expression along with solution-oriented camaraderie within a supportive community such as NAWCHE. I will also search out and advertise opportunities for faculty and student participants to present at local and/or national conferences, in addition to encouraging Gaffney-themed publications in scholarly journals for faculty and undergraduate journals for the work of Sullivans and students campus-wide.

In keeping with the Ignatian principle of “finding God in all things” (including the secular, but most specifically in the spiritual) over my past twenty-five years here at Seattle U I have had sustained a consistent cultivation of Catholic character and charisms. While maintaining my professed role as Third Order Dominican, I have been so profoundly drawn to Ignatian spirituality that it has become thoroughly infused in my professionalism and religiosity both on and off campus. My formation in the Ignatian tradition has developed in enriching ways through engagement in many spiritually-evolving activities, including: speaking on panels, participating in the Catholic Thought and Social Teachings Summer Seminar (2005) and the Arrupe Seminar (2012-13), making a wide-range of retreats, including SEEL (2006) and Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola 30-Day Retreat (2011), being a pilgrim participant on both In the Footsteps of St. Ignatius trips to Spain (2010) and Assisi/Rome (2014), and training as an Ignatian Spiritual Director. In this role I have cultivated the pastoral habit of holy listening and the professional/personal habit of wholly listening—these qualities will be very useful in my merciful leadership of Gaffney Gatherings.

As the Gaffney Chair, my grounding in Ignatian spirituality will be beneficial when spending dedicated community building, spiritual discernment, and social justice development time with participants, especially when guiding them wisely, compassionately, and mercifully through the many and often complex issues which surface as part of the transformative promise of my gatherings and activities. 

My Gaffney Gathering theme—Tender Mercies: Moving from a Kaírós of Mercy to Creating the Beloved Community for a Just and Humane World—was originally inspired by the complementary global visions of Pope Francis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in which the former inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2015 and the latter began promoting his ideal of creating an all-inclusive Beloved Community in 1958. Mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the Ignatian principle of cura personalis (care for the whole person) are at the core of both of their visions for the holistic healing of the challenges and brokenness that plague our global world. Being appointed to this chair at this critical time of much needed merciful reconciliation and local/national/global healing presents the opportunity to offer guest speaker engagements, roundtable discussions, book reading groups, leadership circles, social justice advocacy workshops, campus/community town halls, and more, all of which align with this chair’s promotion of "issues germane to the Jesuit mission and identity of Seattle University.”

Dr. King observes in his I Have Been to the Promised Land (1968) speech that “The [world] is sick; trouble is in the land, confusion all around. . . But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough [we] can see the stars. And I see God working in this period. . . Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up.  And wherever they are assembled today . . . the cry is always the same: We want to be free.” Pope Francis similarly observes, in (2015), that “[O]urs is a time of mercy. . . this is a kaírós, our era is a kaírós of mercy, an opportune time . . . [to offer] the medicine of mercy. . . [because] humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds, or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them. . . Humanity needs mercy and compassion.” As stewards of humanity there is reflected in both of their observations a vision for the cultivation of moral leadership that is merciful, forgiving, reconciliatory, healing, and seeks global unification. My proposed Gaffney Gatherings offer a road map for seamlessly segueing from Pope Francis’ kaírós of mercy to creating Dr. King’s ideal of the beloved community. They are particularly timely given the ironic reality that, concurrent with the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy (November 2016) our new U.S. President was elected, and much derision and division has arisen nationally and globally which needs mending through the practice of mercy with a view towards building beloved community.

Ours is a kaírós time of community building at SU, and Gaffney Gatherings will provide timely opportunities for invoking the Ignatian principle of cura personalis while extending “tender mercies” to one another in inclusive, caring, collaborative settings designed to promote healing through enacting mercy and creating space for meaningful dialogue. As Dr. King notes, for far too long we have "live[d] in monologue rather than dialogue," and the start of merciful “witnessing” and healing “dialoguing” can happen through my proposed Beloved Community Deep Dialogue Workshops. Inspired by Dr. King’s vision, these workshops align with Pope Francis’ observation that “Most people are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties. This is what I call the ‘apostolate of the ear,’ and it is important. Very important.”  Being Ignatian trained, I am skilled at holy/wholly listening and, being in agreement with the Pontiff, I seek to foster in others this “apostolate of the ear” by leading deep dialogue discussions during which participants hold in trust one another’s truths and vulnerabilities as we move through them to catharses leading to transformation of self and society. Aphoristically speaking, the only way out is through, and our kaírós time of community building is ripe and in keeping with the scriptural truth that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). As Dr. King proclaims, “the time is now” and ours is a kaírós time for cura personalis reflecting self-care, community care, and glocal care for the common good.

This resonates deeply for me and, as my students know so very well, I often use James Cameron’s film Titanic as an example of how focusing on Rose and Jack’s tragic love story can deflect viewers away from the tragic travesties found in the socially stratified upper-class passengers and those in steerage, the privileged travelers on deck, and those cordoned off and locked below.  For discerning agents of change inequities abound in this film, and the scene when the ship founders and Captain Smith asks how many persons are aboard is empathically fraught with meaning.  First Officer Murdoch answers: “Two thousand two hundred souls on board, sir.”  As a person for others in all aspects of my professional, spiritual, and personal lives I find this humanistic statement to be one that is the great and equitable leveler . . . In my classes and interactions with others on our campus, and in my local, national, and global engagement with others, I always remember at heart at “There are souls on board” and not just a diverse range of economically, socially, and culturally stratified persons. 

This guiding principle of the above anecdote, in my view, is eminently merciful and richly reflective of cura personalis (mind, body, and soul), and this Ignatian principle will serve as the foundational core of the book groups, desolation/consolation circles, deep dialogue discussions, and speaker series I will be offering, These Gaffney Gatherings are intersectionally and inclusively open to participation by Seattle University faculty, staff, and students, and in all scheduled programming we will all be mindful that we are “souls on board” representing a diverse range of persons engaged in similar individual and collective goals that seek the common good. The level of self-knowledge/renewal and the kind of social transformation being sought can only be achieved through merciful open sharing encounters that: (1) fosters a space for forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing; (2) encourages the development of a cohesive and motivated beloved community; and (3) establishes a committed collective stance to affect glocal social change. 

With cura personalis as the central charism driving the self-care, community care, and glocal care aims of my Gaffney Gatherings and, in addition to focusing on “moving from a kaírós of mercy to creating beloved community,” parallels will be drawn between Dr. King’s principles of nonviolent direct action during the Civil Rights Movement and Pope Francis’s theme of Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace for the 50th World Day of Peace (January 2017). While following the efforts of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI) to “Affirm . . . the vision and practice of nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church,” participants will have opportunities to navigate the inevitable challenges (desolations) and rewards (consolations) of practicing and promoting merciful nonviolence towards self and others while responding to the Ignatian invitation to “find God in all things” in the process of building beloved community.

As I conclude my remarks I am mindful, as noted earlier, of the Lucan scriptural reference that “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” There is no doubting that Seattle U and the College of Arts and Sciences have given me much in terms of my professional and spiritual development, and the opportunity to serve as the Reverend Louis Gaffney Chair combined with my present career trajectory as a teacher, scholar, administrator, and person for others in the Ignatian tradition, are a timely match. In this kaírós of my career as a member of our university community and citizen of the world I am honored to pay my formations and graces forward as the holder of this valued and respected endowed chair. This appointment is one I will safeguard and through which I will enact my stewardship of community gatherings that promise to foster and further our institutional identity, while representing our College through promotion of the Gaffney Chair’s commitment to social justice advocacy and leadership in alignment with its Jesuit ethos.

I’ll close with a quote from The Talmud that one our colleagues from Theology and Religious Studies, Dr. Beatrice Lawrence, posted on Facebook over the weekend, because it so succinctly expresses and summates much of what I desire to provoke, instill, and accomplish via my Gaffney Gatherings, and I can almost hear both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope Francis symphonically speaking the words along with me:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief.
Do justly now,
Love mercy now,
Walk humbly now.
[We] are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are [we] free to abandon it.

Book image credits:

  • Book: Thomas Clarkson and Ottobah Cugoano:Essays on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species. Broadview Press, October 2010.
  • Book chapter: “It Takes a Village to Rear a Word Weaver: Memoirs of a Black Catholic Girlhood” in Unruly Catholic Women Writers: Creative Responses to Catholicism.   Eds. Jeanna Del Rosso, Leigh Eicke, Ana Kothe.  SUNY Press, 2013.
  • Book chapter: “Free at Last! No More Performance Anxieties in the Academy, ‘Cause Stepin Fetchit has Left the Building” in Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Eds. Angela Harris, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen González and Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs.  Utah State University Press, 2012.
  • Book chapter: “The Battle of the Bell(e)s: The Sweet Labor of Working through it with bell hooks” in Women and Work: The Labors of Self-Fashioning.  Eds. Christine Mower and Suzanne Weil.  Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011.
  • Peer Reviewed Journal Article: “Brontë’s Inferno: An Intertextual Structural Analysis of Edward Rochester’s Redemptive Fire Baptism in Jane Eyre.” VICTORIANS: A Journal of Culture and Literature (Special Charlotte Brontë Bicentenary Issue).  Fall 2016.
  • Encyclopedia entry: “Lesotho.” Women's Lives around the World: A Global Encyclopedia. (6000 words).  ABC-CLIO (January 2018) and “Namibia.” Women's Lives around the World: A Global Encyclopedia. (6000 words). ABC-CLIO (January 2018).