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Jesuits gather in Boston for worldwide education conference


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BOSTON -- For the first time since St. Ignatius of Loyola formed the order in in 1540, Jesuit educators came together from all over the world for the first International Colloquium on Jesuit Secondary Education themed "The World is Our House" on the campus of Boston College.

According to organizers from hosting Boston College High School, 400 educators associated with Jesuit schools descended on Boston from 61 countries on six continents. The five-day colloquium provided Jesuit educators 52 workshops addressing concerns and topics relevant to Jesuit education, discussion opportunities including panel events and breakout sessions, and keynote talks from eight authorities in Jesuit education.

After a video welcome from Father Adolfo Nicolas, SJ, the superior general of the Society, Father Jose Alberto Mesa, SJ, Society of Jesus Secretary for Secondary and Pre-Secondary Education, opened the conference with a welcome keynote entitled "An Eye to the Future: Our Continued Collaboration."

"This colloquium, the Society of Jesus hopes is the beginning of a new way of proceeding, a new way of being schools, in the Jesuit tradition. That probably means that we need to take networking and global networking very seriously, and that we need to incorporate that global dimension into our education," he said afterward.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, opened the second day of the colloquium with his keynote address "Staying Faithful to the Jesuit Mission in Our Schools."

Father Lombardi opened his talk by describing an encounter between Pope Benedict XVI and astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Instead of giving the astronauts a speech, the pope asked questions about the possibility of peace in the world, protection of creation, and the importance of international collaboration on the planet below the station.

Father Lombardi quickly tied the story in with the theme of Jesuit identity and mission in the role of education.

"The Son of God's mission to mankind, as decided by the Trinity while contemplating our Earth, came about so that men might find the right path on their journey in the world, that they might understand the reason for which they were created, the significance of the fact that they were called into life, their responsibility for all created things," he said.

He framed the global situation facing Jesuit education in the framework of the New Evangelization, what Pope Benedict XVI has called an "educational emergency," and the complementary nature between faith and reason.

"The dialogue between faith and the natural and human sciences, between faith and art, between faith and culture in all its expressions, is one of the most pressing imperatives of our time. It is the necessary continuation of Vatican Council II's message on the Church and the modern world, and has been an essential element of the mission of the Society of Jesus ever since its origins," he said.

A panel discussion and another keynote address followed the remarks from Father Lombardi.

In his keynote "Jesuit Identity in the 21st Century," Father Daniel Patrick Huang, SJ, general counsel and regional assistant for Asia Pacific in the Society of Jesus, set out to address key points from the 70th Congregation of Procurators held in Nairobi in June.

He included questions for delegates to think about or discuss as the colloquium went on as he reviewed findings from the congregation.

"How are we bridging the gap between young people and our Church, between our school community and the Church?" he asked.

Workshops at the colloquium continued to address the issue of Jesuit identity in the educational institutions run by the Society throughout the world.

Workshops included broad topics such as "What Makes a Jesuit School Jesuit?" and more specific regional concerns such as "How Can We Guarantee a Jesuit Ethos in a New African School?"

John Mark, the director of campus ministry at Boston College High School, presented on the value and role of retreats in the life of students enrolled at Jesuit schools.

"Ignatian spirituality should be an open gift. It should be a way of interpreting life. It should be a means through which we just live, through which we just connect to the world," he said.

His workshop "The Campus Ministry Department: A Nexus of Ignatian Spirituality in Jesuit Secondary Education" placed the prayer-life of students at the center of establishing a Jesuit identity at an educational institution, even when students come from multiple religious backgrounds.

"A lot of things on retreat will speak in more God-language than Catholic-language, per se. Especially when we know that we have Muslims and Jews on the retreat along with Catholic students. We try to expand the wording, the understanding, that takes place," he said.

Priests, principals, headmasters and educators filled every seat at a workshop presented by Father Kenneth Boller, SJ, president of Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, entitled "Advanced Fundraising."

Father Boller stressed the need to not be afraid to ask donors for money to help schools do the work required by the mission of the Society.

"Our founder, whose feast we celebrate today, wrote something over 6,000 letters, in the course of his general. Of those, about 5,000 were written to get support for the various foundations of the new Society. So we have a deep spirituality of fundraising going on here in the society."

On the second day of the colloquium Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, celebrated the Liturgy for the Solemnity of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

After celebrating Mass, the cardinal told The Pilot he was pleased to host the Society of Jesus in Boston for the historic occasion.

"This a very historic occasion where the leadership of all the Jesuit high schools would come together. We are very proud of B.C. High and Bill Kemeza for sponsoring this. I am sure that it will redound to the wonderful Catholic education that is being provided in our schools, and hopefully will inspire people during this Year of Faith to recommit themselves to the ideas of St. Ignatius," he said.

Mary Grassa O'Neill, Boston archdiocese secretary of education, also attended Mass and shared her enthusiasm for Boston hosting the Jesuits in their work to unify their creative educational vision. She also conveyed thanks to the president of B.C. High School William Kemeza, the principal Steve Hughes, and the director of International Programs and International Colloquium on Jesuit Secondary Education at B.C. High School.

"That is so exciting that they have brought together all their leaders from around the world, to have them all in one place, all of them here praying together, being led by the cardinal who spoke in multiple languages and people responding in their native language. It has been a huge effort for everyone but the Jesuits have a big focus on, of course, strong academics also global education. So, this is a wonderful opportunity to learn from one-another," she said.

Michael Brennan, vice principal of B.C. High School said the efforts of Dr. Martin J. Dunn, chairman of B.C. High School's Global Education Committee, respected and consulted with the Jesuit hierarchy and shared his excitement with the organizers when a letter from Rome confirmed consent for the first of its kind event.

"It was like Christmas morning when Marty got the letter. He read it to the board," he said.

Participants said they enjoyed not only the opportunity to discuss Jesuit identity of schools in a global context, but also the opportunity to network and learn informally be engaging their peers from throughout the world.

In an informal conversation between sessions, two educators, one Irish and one Italian discussed collaborating directly to expand curriculums by possibly exchanging teachers or students between the two countries.

"We were trying to understand how we could expose our children to more globalized opportunities. Ireland has got many similarities with us in terms of being a Catholic country," said Gianluca Vignola, who coordinates Jesuit education with the Italian Province for the network of Italian schools.

"We could offer to Irish teachers opportunity for arts, for Latin, or for other disciplines that they would like to learn from Italy, while we would profit from the English language, which for us is very important," he said.

With delegates from 304 schools throughout the world, Jesuit educators found opportunities to interact with counterparts from other countries.

Delegates said they picked up useful knowledge to bring back to their missions in the countries where they live and the schools where they work.

"The key thing that has come through again and again -- and it has always been there but I am going back with it strongly, I am going back to Malawi in a couple days -- is the notion of networking, of twinning, of learning from what is going on from other schools particularly those of us that are from the African schools. We're learning we can share what's going on with each other and in that way strengthen things," said Father Peter Henriot, SJ, who is working to build and organize a school in Kasungu, Malawi.

Some delegates said the colloquium had a profound effect on them by highlighting the universal nature of the work that Jesuit schools do in their global mission.

"In this conference, when we have come from every corner of the world, it gives me enormous encouragement. It encourages me to work still harder and to face any challenges, because I find just everywhere practically people are facing the same kind of challenges. I am not only the single person that is facing the challenge, but I think we are united as the Christian faith especially the baptized," Father Nirdosh Ekka, SJ, of Campion School in Bhopal, India, said.

"I feel very much that all are with me to help me out here," he said.

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