It might be helpful to consider a few reflections — deriving from prayer and practice — when considering "the Mission of the University" often referred to in conversation. Difficulties arise when a speaker considers the Mission specific only to his or her particular situation at that moment or when the Mission is used as a proof text for what he or she champions, or disdains, at a given moment or particular situation.
We suggest some specific considerations:
That before we cite the Mission so definitively, we read and understand it in its entirety and the opportunities and obligations it provides and imposes on us;
That we regard the Mission as it is intended — descriptive and invitational, not prescriptive — revealing, as it does, the formational "way of proceeding" of Ignatius of Loyola, who it clearly reflects and certainly calls us to understand;
That in any citation of the Mission of the University, we also understand the signs of the times that condition and shape the Mission and each of us — an understanding also reflective of Ignatius of Loyola, who called the early and current members of his Society, and all people and places we touch, to enter fully into the world, in their time, in their place, in the situation and circumstances they discover, in the apostolate to which they're missioned and always with a firm grounding in faith; the Mission is the Mission and not subject to momentary revelations about what, in fact, the Mission is not;
That we realize the deep faith-grounding of the Mission. At its base, the Mission calls us to understand ourselves, each other and God in a comprehensive, full-person sense, a series of inter-connected relationships — as members of a larger, long-standing University community. Without that grounding, the Mission remains just a nice idea, rather than a new level to which we can aspire, beyond ourselves at any given moment;
That, having read the Mission, we understand it as fundamental in our actions on and off campus; that we consider it a formational and foundational document, helping shape each of us in our particular context and development — as students, members of the faculty, members of staff, as alumni, trustees and patients, current and those who’ve gone before us — all as shareholders in an enterprise composed of ourselves to be sure, but much larger and far-reaching than ourselves, alone;
That we regard the Mission as a clear call to serve a higher purpose, with our one goal to seek the greater good;
That we do not reduce the Mission to a couple of nice phrases that serve whatever purpose we’re championing at any given moment, but know it for what it is: a document calling and guiding us far beyond ourselves, in a practical and a philosophical sense;
That we understand the Mission as a document of possibility and responsibility, personal and corporate, for now and later, for here and there … for however far our reach can extend with the opportunities we've been afforded, the blessings we've been given;
That when we refer to "the Jesuit Mission" we understand that mission to be Ad majorem Dei gloriam, and the service of faith and the promotion of justice, obviously reflected in and part of the Mission of Saint Louis University, but not the same as or instead of the Mission of Saint Louis University;
That we don't refer to the Mission, or quote aspects of the Mission that narrowly apply to us, but understand the Mission as a comprehensive set of guiding principles that apply more or less specifically to me or to you — more or less specifically — but clearly and profoundly serve as a grounding context for who we can become, where we are, and where we will go;
That we understand the Mission not in reference to ourselves individually, but in reference to all of us together, in relationship to each other;
That we allow the Mission of Saint Louis University to call out the best from us and not the worst in us.
Contextually, the Mission of Saint Louis University derives from St. Ignatius of Loyola, from his Spiritual Exercises, from his many letters and instructions, to fellow Jesuits in his then-young Society, his companions, his friends in the Lord. It also reads the signs of the times, particular to Saint Louis University and our mission, our apostolate here.
It is said that St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises and letters, offered the consideration that moments of stress, darkness or anxiety might more appropriately — and more profitably — be considered opportunities for light and the grace of God. We can all pray for, and benefit from, light and grace.
For your own consideration and reflection, we've attached some background documents characteristic of our Mission at Saint Louis University and Jesuit higher education;
This first selection is an extract from a series of pre-HLC site visit presentations by Miriam Joseph and Steve Sanchez, chair and HLC liaison respectively of the recent HLC accreditation process for the University. This statement derived from a broad series of input and conversations with students, staff, faculty, and other members of the University community. The entire self-study and report from the site-visit team can be found at the Office of Academic Affairs website.
There is strong evidence that the University community is very mission-oriented. Commitment to mission drives the work of countless faculty, staff and students. There also is evidence that an in-depth understanding of SLU's mission is not necessarily shared and often lacks comprehension beyond taglines, i.e., warrants a deeper grounding in Jesuit fundamentals. We should expand efforts to improve Jesuit mission literacy and SLU mission literacy among students, faculty, and staff (including assessment of mission-related activities/initiatives); incorporate the work of the Characteristics of Jesuit Education at SLU Task Force.
Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice, Decree 4 of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus December 2nd, 1974 - March 7th, 1975: This document comes from the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, discussing the "Jesuit Mission."
The Characteristics of Jesuit Education is a product of reflection of the Presidents of the 28 AJCU institutions of higher education in the United States, reflections from Provincials in the United States Assistancy and other Church and Jesuit leadership. This 2011 document addresses our colleges and universities in the context of the United States.
Depth, Universality and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today, is the text of a talk offered by Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., superior general of the Society of Jesus. He offered his remarks for Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe in Mexico City in 2010.
The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, was presented to the Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education at Santa Clara University, Oct. 6, 2000.
A. M. D. G.
P. Stark, S.J.