Thursday, November 29, 2007

Were Have All The Jesuits Gone? Fairfield College?

Strength in spirit: Number of Jesuits decline, identity increases
By: Kimberly Petrone

Plans for a new, green Jesuit residence will allow students to occupy the current Jesuit building. When James Fitzpatrick attended Fairfield in the late 1960s, there was no office of Jesuit mission and identity. Few volunteer or service trips were even offered. Students were required to go to mass on Sunday wearing a shirt and tie. There was also no Ignatian Residential College. There was a greater number of Jesuit priests teaching at that time, said Fitzpatrick, now assistant vice president for student affairs. But with all the additional Jesuit programs, he said the school is even stronger in its Jesuit identity today than he remembers it back then. "We are much more Jesuit now than when I was a student in the '60s," said Fitzpatrick '70. "We did not have many opportunities then that we have now." In 1970, there were 27 Jesuit faculty members out of 126 undergraduate faculty, or 21 percent, according to Fairfield's Web site. Now, there are four Jesuit faculty members out of 219, or 1.8 percent. Fairfield University President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx has openly noted the decline in Jesuit priests in a student news conference last month. He also said that in the future, the Jesuit ideals can be upheld without the bodily presence of Jesuits through other members of faculty and administration who realize the importance of the Jesuit mission. Fr. James Bowler, facilitator for Catholic and Jesuit mission and identity, agreed. He called for a "collaborative effort" among faculty, administrators and the Jesuits on campus to support the University's identity. Since the second Vatican Council, there has been an effort to support laity in church roles. This can also reference their roles as a part of a Jesuit institution. "We've got to train and empower non-Jesuits," said Fr. Bowler, who suggested there be a type of partnership between Jesuits and the laity. The problem is not restricted to Fairfield but is evident on other Jesuit campuses as well. In an article for Georgetown's student newspaper The Hoya in 2003, Georgetown professor Dennis McAullife wrote: "I now understand that the Jesuit and Catholic identity of Georgetown is not measured by the number of Jesuits active on campus. … Though not everyone on campus is Catholic or even religious, there is a culture of respect for the values Jesuits hold and teach that touches every aspect of campus life." Writer Peter Zysk found that between 2002 and 2005, the percentage of Jesuit faculty members at the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. fell from 2.4 percent to 1.7 percent. "This leaves lay faculty with the job of figuring out how to provide a Jesuit education with fewer Jesuits," he wrote in a 2006 article for the Gonzaga Bulletin. Jesuits themselves are aware of the problem and are rethinking the ministry in terms of partnership with the laity. There is an "opportunity to breed a generation of lay faculty who understand tradition of Jesuits," said Paul Lakeland, director of the center for Catholic studies and himself a former Jesuit. With the problem of declining Jesuits becoming more apparent, "more people are now conscious of overall vision," said Lakeland. "Lay people, particularly faculty, want to believe they have just as much to offer to students as anyone else in terms of the educational mission," he said. FUSA President Hutch Williams '08 said the University has done a good job of hiring people who embody the ideals of Jesuits and teach accordingly. "Jesuits themselves have a unique way of teaching, but a lot of faculty embrace Jesuit ideals, and that is why they are here," said Williams. While the mission may be upheld, there are certain traditions that simply are not possible due to the lack of Jesuit priests on campus. For example,
Fr. Charles Allen remembers a time when there was a Jesuit living in every dorm
building on campus."There isn't really any way you can quite make up that loss there," said Allen, executive assistant to von Arx. "You never want to take away from the quality of lay teachers, but pure Jesuit spirit would be better if they were here."
Other schools have less of a problem. According to the Boston College Web site, there are 113 Jesuits in the BC community; half of them are involved part-time or full-time in the college's faculty and administration. This makes it one of the largest Jesuit communities of any college or university. Fairfield is currently in the process of building a new, smaller residence for the Jesuits, due in part to the lower number of Jesuit priests. Fr. Walter Conlan, a rector, coordinates apostolic activities and tends to the spiritual growth and care of the Jesuit community. He thinks that the new location, set behind the lawn of Bellarmine Hall, will be a more central location where the Jesuits can be closer to the community and students. The current larger residence along the southern perimeter of campus on Barlow Road will be converted to student housing, according to current plans. Fitzpatrick said he recognizes that with the decrease in the number of Jesuits on campus, the downside is that "you no longer have the opportunity to develop a relationship with some very fine priests."Yet with the more varied efforts to support the Jesuit mission and the growth of different programs, he said the same Jesuit education is still "here now if you want it."
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