By Therese Fink Meyerhoff
Every baseball fan knows the value of a good utility player.
For the Jesuits, Fr. Justin Daffron, SJ, has proved himself to be an outstanding utility player, serving in disparate roles at Jesuit universities in Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans.
“The one thing that’s similar about my assignments is that I haven’t had proper preparation for any role,” he says with a smile. “That’s the common theme.”
His Jesuit superiors might also point out other common themes: his willingness to go where needed and his success in whatever assignment he’s given.
Father Daffron, 48, recently began his second year as vice president for mission and identity at Loyola University New Orleans. He began his career in higher education at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., as a counselor and assistant to the dean of students. Following ordination, he was assigned to student services at Loyola University Chicago, where he worked to provide support for all students, but particularly for those who were first-generation and low-income. After several years, he moved to the university’s advancement office.
“Having worked with initiatives to serve students, I learned it comes down to resources,” he says. “I fundamentally believe we can graduate any student from any university with the right resources to support them to be successful.”
Next up was Saint Louis University, where Fr. Daffron served as special assistant to the president for new business development. He developed alternative revenue streams by creating collaborations between academic leaders and outside business partners. “I chased the bigger deals that had potential to really impact the school’s budget,” he says.
After just two years at SLU, there was a new spot for the utility player. In 2018, Loyola University New Orleans named Tania Tetlow as its first lay president, and the school’s charter changed to require that at least one officer is a Jesuit. Former Provincial Ronald Mercier, SJ, asked Fr. Daffron to consider the trade to New Orleans.
“When I came down and met with (President Tetlow), I was really inspired by her,” Fr. Daffron said. “In my role, I support her in all things Jesuit and Catholic. She’s so knowledgeable and her voice is so empowering when she talks about mission. My job is to partner with her to strategically advance the university. I also raise questions at the leadership table about how this policy, practice or financial decision benefits our students in line with a Jesuit, Catholic identity.”
Father Daffron arrived at a critical juncture for Loyola, just in time for the Mission Priority Examen that every Jesuit university undertakes. “It was a wonderful opportunity to discern within the Loyola community how we want to advance and deepen our Jesuit and Catholic characteristics,” Fr. Daffron said.
When Fr. General Arturo Sosa sent a letter officially supporting Loyola’s Jesuit Catholic identity and affirming their priorities – specifically, Ignatian formation for faculty and staff – it was cause for celebration for the Loyola community.
“The validation was important because a lot of people had invested time and energy in the process,” Fr. Daffron said. “It helped contributors to see themselves as part of this bigger project. It doesn’t happen very often that people are given a space to talk at a deeper level about how their work relates to this mission. It was empowering to see, especially at a place like Loyola, in the midst of our diversity, a strong sense of commitment to our Jesuit Catholic identity.”