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Mission Examen

SU joins other universities in examining its Jesuit Catholic identity and mission

Written by Mike Thee
February 13, 2017

As President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., announced in the fall, Seattle University is undertaking an examination of its mission this year. 

“The Mission Examen review was initiated by the General of the Jesuits in collaboration with the 28 Jesuit universities of the United States and the leadership of the Jesuits in the country,” Father Sundborg wrote. “(It) is an opportunity to reflect on the university’s Catholic, Jesuit mission—where we are strong, and where we have room to grow—and to set some goals for the future. All 28 Jesuit schools will complete this process over the next five years. It is opportune that we engage in this review of our mission in this 125th anniversary of our founding. 

This week marks an important step in the process as the university is visited by a peer review team from other Jesuit institutions. Two open forum sessions are scheduled, one for faculty (Thursday, Feb. 16, 8:45-9:30 a.m., STCN 210), the other for staff (Friday, Feb. 17, 8:45-9:30 a.m., STCN 210). All members of the campus community are invited to a reception from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Popko Faculty Lounge, at which the peer review team will share their initial findings. Learn more about the visit and read the self-study at Examen.

Peter Ely, S.J., is chairing the committee charged with leading the university through the Mission Examen process. Father Ely, who previously served as SU’s VP for Mission and Ministry, is currently involved in a number of mission-centered initiatives in addition to teaching theology. He recently spoke with The Commons about how the Examen came to be, what it entails and what he expects to will come out of it. 

The Commons: Can you share some of the background that led up to Seattle U becoming engaged in this process? 

Father Peter Ely: For a long time the presidents of the 28 Jesuits universities in America, along with the provincials have recognized that our Jesuit Catholic heritage is a precious thing and that can’t be taken for granted. I think for many years we thought our Jesuit Catholic heritage would just continue without effort on our part, but then maybe 25, 30 years ago, people recognized that, no, it was something you had to work at. 

There was a day when we had a large number of Jesuits at our schools and Jesuit boards of trustees and the provincial appointed the president. And then in the 1970s, we began to have mixed boards of trustees, predominantly lay people, and they selected the presidents. Now a third of the presidents at Jesuit schools are not Jesuits—Loyola Chicago has a woman president who recently took over. 

So the provincials and the presidents have been looking for a way for us to reflect on our Jesuit Catholic character and how well we are integrating that into our university life. So they came up with a document, Some Characteristics of Jesuit Colleges and Universities: A Self-Evaluation Instrument (2012). The idea was that each university would simply take that on their own and apply it to the way they do things and measure themselves against it. Then they realized that there had to be something with more accountability built into it. And so the Father General of the Jesuits at the time, Adolfo Nicolás (now been succeeded by Arturo Sosa, S.J.) mandated that all the Jesuit universities in the U.S. would have a review and they decided to call it an Examen.

Three schools went through the exercise last year, five are doing it this year and then, bit by bit, five will do it each year until (all 28 have completed the process). 

The Commons: Why is it being called an “Examen?” 

Father Peter Ely: The Examen is an exercise that Jesuits and their companions who are following Ignatian spirituality do at the end of the day. You look back at each day, (identify) what was good, what was not so good, give thanks and so on. Well, what we’re doing now is an Examen of our life as a university. Where do we feel the spirit of our mission at work, where is it well exemplified and then where do we feel that we still have work to do? 

The Commons: How has the committee gone about its work? 

Father Peter Ely: When the provincials initiated this process, they put together a collection of documents they thought we should read. One of the first questions the committee took up was: What set of criteria will we use to measure ourselves against? The committee felt quite strongly that we should use the seven characteristics that came out of “Some Characteristics of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.” So are using those seven categories, which we adapted and added to. 

The Commons: What input has the committee received from the wider campus community? 

Father Peter Ely: We gathered groups from all across the University, students, faculty, staff, and sought input on two questions, “Where is the Jesuit Catholic spirit of the University well expressed?” and “Where are we challenged to express it better?” 

The Commons: Where are we in terms of the process? 

Father Peter Ely: The committee completed its self-study report in early January. It has two parts: (1) How are we fulfilling the mission? and (2) Where do we need to grow? We have sent the report to the peer review team of representatives from four Jesuit universities in the U.S. (John Carroll, Creighton, Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount). They will be on campus February 16 and 17 to meet with various groups and see for themselves how we are doing in the integration of our Jesuit Catholic character. 

The Commons: Then what happens from there? 

Father Peter Ely: The peer review committee will report back to us, verbally while they are still here, then in writing, much as an accreditation team does. As Father Steve announced, the peer committee’s report will be submitted to Scott Santarosa, S.J., provincial of Jesuits in the Northwest, and it will be reviewed by the Jesuit provincials at their meeting in Rome in May 2017. Finally the Self Study will go to the General of the Jesuits in Rome and to the Congregation on Higher Education of the Vatican, as well as the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J. 

The three Jesuit universities that completed this process last year found the response to their work very encouraging. I’m sure we will too. 

The Commons: What is your hope or expectation for what will come out of the process? 

Father Peter Ely: I think the process will heighten our sense of the mission and its importance in the life of the university. And it will heighten peoples’ awareness of how seriously the university takes that mission. It’s not a matter of small concern. There’s a commitment on the part of the trustees and the administration and I think a significant part of the whole university community that we remain a Catholic and Jesuit school and I think this will heighten that commitment. 

The Commons: Why is it important for us to heighten the campus community’s commitment to SU’s mission? 

Father Peter Ely: Because we are so inclusive and because we have such a broad range of people at the university—believers, non-believers, Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, etc., etc.—some people might think our Catholic identity isn’t too important, that basically we’re just a  pluralistic university But the truth is that our inclusivity is part of our Catholic and Jesuit commitment. We are inclusive because we are Catholic. The inclusivity and the Catholic identity go together. We need to maintain both aspects.