Seattle U faculty and staff gathered on April 6 for a full morning of engagement around how our Jesuit mission is experienced on campus. In the spirit of the university’s 125th anniversary, the theme was Honoring Our Past to Inform Our Future: Seattle University’s Mission at 125. The format included remarks by President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., and two facilitated “fish bowl”-style panels comprised of faculty, staff, students and alumni. The panels guided conversations around how the past, present and future impact education—in the context of living out the university’s Jesuit Catholic mission—plus the challenges and opportunities the university faces going forward.
The Commons asked Joe Orlando, director of the Center for Jesuit Education and one of the Mission Day planners, to reflect on the morning.
Q: What were some of the main takeaways for you from this year’s Mission Day?
Orlando: Among my takeaways from this year’s Mission Day was the recognition that our Jesuit mission and the way we educate our students has, and continues to, impact our students in deep and meaningful ways. Our panelists spanned five decades of experience and included alumni from different disciplines, faculty and staff from different areas and students from various programs. Yet all shared a deep appreciation for the way their lives have been shaped by the Jesuit education offered at Seattle University. While much has changed over time, much also has remained vital and alive at the heart of our university and the Jesuit mission here.
Q: Mission Day, an annual event since 1999, is designed to allow faculty and staff to spend time considering and perhaps renewing their commitment to Seattle University’s mission and purpose. What does the university hope some outcomes will be by gathering folks for this purpose?
Orlando: Mission Day is designed to provide our faculty and staff with focused time together to go deeper into a topic that has significance for us as a Jesuit university, whether the topic is community engagement, the promise and challenge of racial justice, global education or other foci. With a shared experience together for a morning, we cultivate a common understanding and common commitment to our Jesuit educational mission, which lead to a positive impact for all the students whom we educate, mentor and accompany in each part of the university.
Q: The theme this year was Honoring Our Past to Inform Our Future: Seattle University’s Mission at 125. How do we do this and what does that look like?
Orlando: I was a history major in college and have always appreciated the way that knowing the earlier part of the journey can help explain the present and guide the future. For us at Seattle University, this theme allows us to see the enduring qualities of our Jesuit educational mission. For example, it is our commitment to educating the whole person with a high degree of excellence, our commitment to service for the common good and recognition that each student has a special contribution to make in the world—and to confirm that these commitments have remained and even been strengthened over time. They can continue to be our guide for the future. This is the case even though society is changing, our city is changing and the dynamics of our world changing.
Q: With a shrinking number of Jesuits on campus, a student body that is mostly non-Catholic and located in a city where most people describe their religious affiliation as “none,” how can we maintain the Jesuit educational mission and identity and keep it relevant going forward?
Orlando: While it is true there is a gradual decline underway in the number of Jesuits on campus, there also is an increase in the number of colleagues who are not Jesuits who are taking up the inspiration of what it means to be a Jesuit university. They are delivering an education infused with Ignatian values. St. Ignatius always sought to engage lay companions in the work that the Jesuits were doing and we are carrying forward that tradition. This means that more of us need to grow in understanding and readiness to bring the Jesuit vision to life at our university. We are deeply engaged in that effort and a broad range of women and men, faculty and staff, are bringing their spirits and energy to the task. We have great colleagues here at Seattle University who are committed to providing our students now and in the future with a Jesuit education.