Our Catholic, Jesuit Mission: The Light that Guides Us

Christy Larsen shakes hands with Pope Francis.
Board Chair Christy Larsen with Pope Francis © Vatican Media

October 30, 2023
Sarah Schwering (’04, ’07 M.B.A.)

In the following excerpt from the 2022-23 Report of the President, we reflect on our Catholic, Jesuit mission, sharing some of the incredible ways our Gonzaga community is exploring Ignatian teachings and incorporating these learnings in their roles.

Jesuit Connections

A priority of the Office of Mission Integration has been the orchestration of deeper formation opportunities for faculty and staff. In the last year, three cohorts have engaged nearly 60 employees in monthly gatherings to explore Jesuit spirituality and Ignatian pedagogy, alongside topics like cura personalis and justice. Mission formation leaders are excited to see how participants apply their learning through their roles in departments across campus, contextualizing the Mission in every aspect of Gonzaga’s work.

The Jesuits and Gonzaga enjoy an active, vibrant relationship as part of a worldwide community of apostolic works. Gonzaga leaders approach new opportunities with an eye on the four Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Jesuits:

  • Showing the way to God
  • Walking with the Excluded
  • Journeying with Youth
  • Caring for our Common Home

Walking in the Footsteps of St. Ignatius

It is in giving that we receive.

Last fall, 24 Trustees and 19 guests traveled to Italy to walk in the footsteps of St. Ignatius. It was the first pilgrimage, completely benefactor-funded, for Gonzaga’s Trustees to meet in Rome with leaders of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The goal was to better and more deeply understand what is expected of Gonzaga as a Jesuit university as we aim to succeed in achieving our mission as an apostolic work.

Members of the Board stand in St. Peter's Square
Members of the Board anticipate Pope Francis’ arrival in St. Peter’s Square.

In Rome, participants met with some of the most influential leaders in the Jesuit world. They began at the headquarters of the Society of Jesus, where they heard from the international director of Jesuit Refugee Service, general counselor and regional assistant for the U.S. and Canada, and the Very Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., superior general of the Jesuits.

At the Pontifical Gregorian University, attendees of the pilgrimage heard from Jesuit scholars and leaders in anthropology, human dignity and care, and research on the role of women in the Bible.

The group also toured the Church of St. Ignatius, where St. Aloysius Gonzaga is buried and il Gesu, the “mother church” of the Jesuits, which is also the final resting place of St. Ignatius and many other notable Jesuits. The tour continued through the restored rooms of St. Ignatius, where participants prayed in the room where Ignatius lived and ultimately died.

At the Vatican, the Gonzaga constituency was among the pilgrim groups formally announced to the thousands attending the General Audience with Pope Francis. A seat was reserved on the platform for a representative from Gonzaga, and Board Chair Christy Larsen represented the Board and the institution.

In Florence, the group converged at the Palazzo Antinori, which was home to the Gonzaga in Florence program for many years. The Board learned about the current status of the program, then celebrated 20 years since the purchase of the current building; the program, its faculty, staff and students; and generosity that made possible the beautiful courtyard that now graces the Mozilo Center.

This pilgrimage was spiritual in focus and mission-driven in purpose. It was an opportunity to visit places where St. Ignatius and his companions labored, but also to engage directly with the contemporary Society of Jesus and to grow in an awareness of Jesuit work in the world.

“The goal of the pilgrimage was to move our faith, our work and our relationship with the Catholic Church forward, and we did just that.”
– Christy Larsen, Board Chair (’88)

Gonzaga is one of only a few universities in the U.S. Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities (AJCU) whose Trustees have made this kind of journey to Rome. And with 24 Trustees in attendance, Gonzaga’s experience has become a model to which other schools are looking for their own leadership formation.

In a time when the number of American Jesuits is declining, the question continues to be asked: “What are we doing to maintain our Jesuit identity?” Father General shared with Trustees what he wants, what he sees and where there are opportunities. Part of this pilgrimage was not so much finding answers, but to better understand the questions Trustees need to be asking. It is in our hands that the future of this Jesuit work rests.

More from the Report of the President