After Words

Imagining a new future, building on the past. A letter from Rome by Paul Locatelli, S.J. ’60

After Words
Vatican view: Fr. Locatelli captures St. Peter’s Basilica in a winter rain. Photo: Paul Locatelli, S.J.

I shut off the lights to my office in Walsh around 6 p.m. on Jan. 2, and as I headed toward the Jesuit Residence, I was moved to stop in the Mission Church. The Mission has always been a moral and spiritual anchor for me. During prayer in the Mission, God finds me and enlightens me with the grace to see that life is filled with surprises and that God is intimately present even in the harshest realities of the world. The Mission is the place where some 47 years ago that my call to become a Jesuit was confirmed, and ever afterward has helped me see, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, that The world is charged with the grandeur of God and that “dearest freshness” deep down in things is the Spirit at work in all of creation.

The grace of the moment was my gratitude and joy for those who accompanied me during my presidency. You have been an extraordinary community of family and friends, and I am proud that because of you the quality of research and teaching has improved significantly over the past two decades. The Santa Clara teaching scholar—deeply committed to students and their learning—is fundamental to the life of the campus. Likewise, the professionalism of the staff. The virtues of learning, ethics, compassion, and a justice of faith define this community, one committed to fashioning a more humane, sustainable, and just world. As Michael Engh, S.J., begins to settle in, it will become ever clearer that he will be an excellent president to lead Santa Clara to new levels of excellence as a Catholic, Jesuit university.

Leaving the Mission, a slight sadness touched me, but also a genuine joy and excitement about my future as secretary for Jesuit higher education, a job for which Santa Clara has prepared me well. Joy and excitement come with thinking about the great possibilities for Jesuit education, the only global network of higher education in the world. The challenge before us is moving beyond inspiration and desire to the building of a structural network in which colleagues from 150 colleges and universities and the more than 80 other higher education institutions can work together in a technologically connected network. The quality of each of our institutions will improve through that linkage and so will the global society.

Our task is to actualize Ignatius’ lofty 16th-century ideal of academic excellence for a 21st-century, globalizing world—a wonderful and beautiful creation, but one bedeviled by the darkness of war, fiscal dysfunction, hunger, poverty, displacement, illegal arms and sex trade, climate change, human rights violations, ethnic and religious conflict, and even genocide.

Jesuit education must be committed to searching for ethical ways to overcome the root causes of such problems. To this end, over the next year, my main task will be to organize an international conference “Shaping the Future: Jesuit Higher Education in the Globalizing World,” which will take place in late April 2010 at the Universidad Iberoamericana, the Jesuit university in Mexico City.

It will open with an address by Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., the newly elected superior general. While it is difficult to anticipate what he will say, I am certain he will affirm the importance of intellectual excellence in addressing the great problems of our times and culture.

Panels of faculty from different cultural and geographical perspectives will address diverse themes such as: 1) migration and refugees; 2) faith, understanding, and interreligious dialogue; 3) religion, science, secularism, and the new atheism; 4) ethical capitalism and the realities of poverty and inequality; 5) eco-justice and sustainability; and 6) youth and social networking.

We will consider how to enhance our Catholic character and Jesuit educational mission, and see how our universities can contribute to a network called the Jesuit Commons through which, for example, refugees and impoverished high school students can find instruction and course materials. I believe this effort will benefit both those served and the universities.

The success of this conference will be measured by what happens beyond it, namely, the extent to which all Jesuit higher educational institutions are networked structurally and, more important, are addressing together our serious contemporary problems and, in the words of the papal constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, are finding “the courage to speak uncomfortable truths” about them.

I begin my new job with gratitude to so many of you for what you have been and accomplished, and I end with even greater gratitude for what you will do in the future.

Paul Locatelli, S.J. ’60 is Secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus. He served as president of Santa Clara University from 1988 to 2008.

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