Developed as an opportunity to put the fruits of the Jesuits’ General Congregation 36 (GC36) in action across sectors, the conference was organized by a team made up of some of the provincial’s leading advisors: Mary Baudouin, provincial assistant for social ministries; Fr. Mark McKenzie, SJ, provincial assistant for pastoral ministries; and Tom Reynolds, provincial assistant for higher education. Pete Musso, director of school support for secondary and pre-secondary education, facilitated the planning committee and handled many of the logistical arrangements. On-site at the conference, he helped to keep the schedule on track.
Conference participants represented 22 different ministries within the Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province, as well as Jesuits, province staff and colleagues working outside this province.
The work of the conference began before participants even arrived on the beautiful campus. Participants were encouraged to read (or re-read) Decree 1 from GC36: Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice. That document builds on the mandate from the previous General Congregation to work for reconciliation with God, with humanity and with creation. That mandate formed the foundation and structure for the week’s work.
Following a welcome from Fr. John Fitzgibbons, SJ, president of Regis University, and a video welcome from Fr. Provincial Ron Mercier, SJ, Fr. Tom Greene, SJ, superior of the Jesuits in Belize, introduced the topic of Reconciliation with God. “Reconciliation is loving, listening and revealing in our actions the beautiful Sacred Heart of Jesus,” he said.
The following morning, Chris Pramuk, chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination at Regis University, offered the second keynote, Reconciliation with Others, Committing to Justice and Peace, Toward Inclusivity. Reconciliation, he says, is the mending of what has been broken, then began challenging his listeners with a series of questions (because, as he said, Jesuits do not fear questions!):
- Why are we not more transformed by our immersion in the life of Jesus?
- What does it look like to live as resurrected beings (living the fourth week of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises)?
- What imagination do we lack as we consider the work of reconciliation?
- Who are the hope-tellers (as named by Walter Brueggemann)? Can it be us?
- What processes are needed to initiate more intentional hospitality?
He also named his “Triptych of Mercy”: Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, the late Sr. Thea Bowman and iconographer William Hart McNichols, three prophets of reconciliation, and encouraged his listeners to consider whom they would include on such a list.
Tuesday afternoon gave participants a chance to share ideas and best practices with others from their “sector” – higher education, pastoral ministry, secondary education and social ministry.
The work day wrapped up with a visit to nearby Arrupe Jesuit High School, where a panel of local Jesuit staff discussed their work and the ways they’ve found to collaborate across sectors. For instance, Regis University offers several scholarships each year to graduates of Arrupe Jesuit, a Cristo Rey school for low-income, primarily Hispanic students. And students from Regis Jesuit High School support the social outreach ministries of St. Ignatius Loyola Jesuit Parish. Fr. Joe Damhorst, SJ, introduced his ministry, working with Native Americans, and invited two Native American women to tell their personal stories, including their road to reconciliation.
Wednesday morning began with a prayer for creation in the form of a water and drum ceremony led by the Plentywolf Singers, a Lakota drum group, outdoors under the brilliant sun. The traditional blessing created a sense of unity within the group, fostered by a final greeting between everyone in attendance.
Cecilia Calvo, senior advisor on environmental justice in the Office of Justice and Ecology at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, presented the third keynote, Reconciliation with Creation. Focusing her remarks on how to connect ecology to mission, pointed out that the suffering of creation is easy to see.“This sickness is evident in the soil, water, air and in God’s creatures,” she said. “We see it in natural disasters like (Hurricane) Maria, in indigenous people’s struggle (as at Standing Rock) and in the cry of the poor.”
The only way to resolve this suffering, Calvo says, is to find a new way of producing and consuming rooted in God’s love. “Healing our relationship with the Earth requires a healing of our thinking,” she said. “And that requires a change of heart, a profound interior conversion.”
Repeating themes from the two previous keynote addresses, Calvo called on participants to use empathy, compassion and imagination to form a new relationship with creation. “Listen to those who have been impacted. Place their voices at the center.”
Calvo encouraged conference attendees to begin using the Eco-Examen she helped create in conjunction with the Ignatian Solidarity Network. This prayer, in the Ignatian tradition of an examination of consciousness, is available on this website.
That afternoon, conference participants faced difficult decisions, as they had to choose just two small-group discussions out of a wide variety of offerings, ranging from “Confronting the Sin of Entitlement” led by Fr. Brian Christopher, SJ, to “Becoming Hospitable Communities for and with Immigrants” led by Christopher Kerr and Kim Miller; to “The Impact of Environmental Degradation on the Poor and People of Color” led by Mary Silwance – among the more than 20 options.
On the final half-day, participants met with others from their area to discuss ways they might work together across sectors. They came back with concrete action plans for collaboration, ranging from a joint retreat in New Orleans to an environmental program for the parish and high school in San Juan, to collaboration on anti-racism events in St. Louis.
There was a definite hum of excitement as the realization hit that collaborators were in the room and ready to work together to promote reconciliation – with God, with humanity and with Creation.
Photos from the conference are available on our SmugMug Gallery.