Bringing a Jesuit perspective to difficult conversations

March 8, 2017

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Written by Pat Howell, S.J.

Race relations, police brutality, racism, police support, micro-aggressions, Jesuits and slavery, sexual consent/social justice, “Catholic mission—too much, not enough”—these are just a few of the difficult topics featured in the current issue of Conversations magazine. 

Capitalizing on the magazine, the Jesuit universities and colleges in the Heartlands/Delta region, from Chicago to New Orleans, used this same theme of “difficult conversations” for their well-attended faculty conference at Creighton University, Feb. 24-26.

The organizers of the Creighton conference recommended four articles from Conversations to be read in advance, including “A Spirituality of Citizenship: Cultivating the Ignatian Charism of Dialogue” by Michael P. Murphy of Loyola Chicago and “Difficult Conversations, One Bite at a Time,” by Thomas Curran, S.J., of Rockhurst University. The focus of the conference was active participation in engaging difficult conversations rather than simply talking about them.

The keynoter was Chris Pramuk, associate professor at Xavier University, who spoke on “Leaning into Difficult Conversations: An Ignatian Composition of Place,” offering a superb, contemplative approach for reframing the dialogic engagement needed for conflictual conversations. Two faculty members of the Werner Law Center of Creighton Law School, who specialize in mediation and conflict engagement, guided and facilitated actual, difficult conversations among the conference participants.

We commissioned articles on this theme last year because of the critical situations that had arisen in Baltimore and St. Louis. In each case, a young African-American male was either shot or brutalized by police. Loyola University of Maryland and St. Louis University were directly affected in the aftermath and found creative, “Jesuit” ways of responding to these race-laced situations.

The National Seminar has sought in recent years to partner with other AJCU events so that the magazine receives maximum use and effect. Similarly, the Seminar will partner with Seattle University for the Justice Conference this coming August when it publishes its next issue:  the Jesuit university as “Sanctuary for Truth and Justice.” The topic, rather obviously, arose following the turbulent ascendancy of the current U.S. president and his immediate implementation of discriminatory bans on immigration from Muslim countries and a fierce round up of undocumented peoples.

Pat Howell, S.J., is professor of theology and part of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture. He chairs the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education, publisher of Conversations. The National Seminar has a rotating membership of nine faculty members coming from each of the 28 Jesuit institutions of higher education and serving for a three-year term. Father Howell has been chair and general editor of the magazine for seven years.