Journeying in Mission

Duomo dei Santi Nazario e Celso is in Castiglione delle Stiviere. Photo by Zack Berlat
Duomo dei Santi Nazario e Celso is in Castiglione delle Stiviere. Photo by Zack Berlat.
February 10, 2023
Sarah Schwering (’04, ’07 M.B.A.)

Gonzaga Trustees strengthen tie to Jesuits through pilgrimage

It is in giving that we receive.

In 1522, as a part of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola created a prayer, the Suscipe, which is derived from the Latin meaning “receive.”

Take O Lord and receive all my liberty:
My memory, my understanding, my entire will
whatever I have or hold, you have given me
To you I return it, to be governed wholly by your will
Give me only your love and your grace
And I am rich enough
And ask for nothing more.

Trustees, family members and Gonzaga staff at the Jesuit Curia with St. Peter’s Square (Rome) in the background.
Trustees, family members and Gonzaga staff at the Jesuit Curia with St. Peter’s Square (Rome) in the background.

The following is an account of the giving and receiving at the heart of Gonzaga’s governance and leadership, an overview of the profound experiences that occur when people invest themselves in relationship, and in service to the idea of developing a vision for the future rooted in the powerful heritage of the University’s Jesuit and Catholic identity.

“Be Bold, Take Risks”

In late September, 24 Trustees and 19 of their spouses, family members and guests, traveled to Italy to walk literally and figuratively in the footsteps of St. Ignatius. This pilgrimage, completely benefactor- funded and several years in development, was the first time Gonzaga’s Trustees would journey to meet in Rome with leaders of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The goal was to understand better and more deeply what is expected of us as a Jesuit university and succeed in achieving our mission as an apostolic work.

For Trustee Rita Illig Liebelt, chair of the Mission Integration Committee, the Trustee pilgrimage was fundamental to the Board’s formation plan. “What is so important to realize is that this wasn’t a trip. It was a pilgrimage. It was about getting to the roots of our Jesuit heritage. Our Catholic faith. To grow, to absorb and to learn together in communion.” Board Chair Christy Larsen (’88) saw how it would bring the Board together. “Our Board is a group of diverse individuals with different lived experiences. The pilgrimage offered us the opportunity to share a common experience, in service to our work as a Board.”

During the first three days, the group journeyed through Rome, meeting with some of the most influential leaders in the Jesuit world. They began at the Curia (headquarters) of the Society of Jesus, where they heard from the international director of Jesuit Refugee Service, Fr. Tom Smolich, S.J.; General Counselor and Regional Assistant for the U.S. and Canada Fr. Doug Marcouiller, S.J.; and ultimately the Very Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., superior general and ultimate authority in governance of the Jesuits.

Hearing Father General’s message was especially insightful for Trustee Theresa Dominguez. “Father General gave us a gift when he said, ‘Don’t be scared or afraid to go forward and be bold.’ He talked about not being still in our discernment, but to be bold, to go forward, sharing the apostolic preferences, which have been set forth, aligning the preferences with our mission identity.”

Trustee, Rector and Superior of GU’s Jesuit Community Fr. Tom Lamanna, S.J., agreed that the visit with Father General was one of the most impactful experiences. “Hearing Father General’s call to be bold and animate the mission of the university is fundamental to our need for apostolic discernment,” Lamanna says.

(Left) President McCulloh with Father General Arturo Sosa, S.J. (Right) President McCulloh with Christy Larsen
(Left) President McCulloh with Father General Arturo Sosa, S.J. (Right) President McCulloh with Christy Larsen.


At the Pontifical Gregorian University, attendees heard from Jesuit scholars and leaders. Fr. Hans Zollner, S.J., director of the Institute of Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care, spoke about the study of systemic elements in the Church that have given rise to abuse by clergy, and the work of the Institute in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. The group next met with Fr. Jim Grummer, S.J., superior of the Jesuit Community and Fr. Mark Lewis, S.J., rector (president) of the Pontifical Gregorian University, to talk about the work of the “Greg,” which has its roots in the Roman College, founded by St. Ignatius in 1551. The morning concluded with an excellent lecture by Professor Nuria Calduch-Benages, an Old Testament scholar who spoke about women’s research on the role of women in the Bible.

The group also toured the Church of St. Ignatius (where St. Aloysius Gonzaga is buried), il Gesu (the “mother church” of the Jesuits and the burial place of St. Ignatius and many other notable Jesuits), and the restored rooms of St. Ignatius, which included visiting and praying in the room where Ignatius lived and ultimately died.

To Trustee Larry Simkins, this was one of the most memorable moments of the entire journey. “During the pandemic, I, along with a handful of trustees and GU staff, did the Spiritual Exercises with Fr. Tim Clancy, S.J., which provided context for what we were about to experience. During our tour, we were cramped together in St. Ignatius’ room and our guide was sharing more about Ignatius’ life and how he had died right in that very place. At that moment, she invited someone from our group to share, and out of the back of the group, from the darkness, stepped Fr. Clancy.”

As Fr. Clancy, associate professor of philosophy, recalls: “After a long and prayerful walking tour, we entered the historically small room where St. Ignatius had worked. I shared the prayer Jesuit novices pray every night when we ourselves were tired and ready for bed.”

But for Simkins, it was a moment he will never forget. “Fr. Clancy said, ‘I think I have a prayer; I’ll try to remember it,’ and he recited word-for-word St. Ignatius’ prayer, Suscipe. It was such a special moment.”

The Spirit at Work

At the Vatican, the Gonzaga constituency was among the pilgrim groups formally announced to the thousands attending the General Audience with Pope Francis. Before the service began, a member of the Swiss Guard and President McCulloh conferred, and it was confirmed that there was one seat reserved on the platform for a representative from Gonzaga. McCulloh immediately turned to Board Chair Christy Larsen and asked her to represent the Board and the institution.

“Meeting Pope Francis was such a privilege,” says Larsen. “His presence, his inner strength and godliness just surrounded him as an aura. As I awaited my invitation to approach, the environment seemed a bit chaotic. Eventually, my opportunity to greet Pope Francis arrived, and everything came into focus. It was an experience of a lifetime and I am thankful for it.”

To Liebelt, the message Pope Francis shared that day could not have been more in line with the purpose of the pilgrimage. “Pope Francis’ message was all about the spirit at work. Prayer calls us to action.”

Trustees at the Church of St. Ignatius, in front of the tomb of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
Trustees at the Church of St. Ignatius, in front of the tomb of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

Andiamo a Firenze!

After arriving in Florence, the group converged at the Palazzo Antinori, which was home to the Gonzaga in Florence program for many years. The next day, the Board met in formal session to learn about the current status of the program, then gathered to celebrate 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.

For Dominguez, the visit to the Florence campus was very special. “Seeing where students are studying abroad at the GU site and learning more about the issues facing Dean Jason Houston and the Florence faculty, will help us learn how we as Trustees can continue to support this program in service to our students.”

While he himself is not a GU alumnus, both of Simkins’ daughters attended Gonzaga, one of them having spent a semester in Florence. “There’s something that makes Gonzaga special, and this journey allowed me to get embedded in the culture of Gonzaga in Florence. The history and the connection with the Florence community was so much deeper than I could have ever imagined.”

We Need to Live It

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.

“Our Trustees made a significant investment of time, resources and goodwill,” McCulloh says, “and made manifest their commitment to the Jesuits by journeying, by visiting with Father General, Fr. Marcouiller and the Jesuits working in Rome. They connected with our Jesuit heritage. It was important, formative work that will benefit the University for years to come.”

For Liebelt, the pilgrimage allowed the Board to see their role through a new lens. “As Board members we are called to be open to discernment and prayer, to discover how the Spirit moves us. We must be willing to take risks and that’s sometimes hard to hear. We listen to God working in our lives, directing us, leading us.”

Joe Caravalho, M.D. (’79), joined the Board of Trustees in 2019, and as a newer Trustee recognizedthe importance of journeying together to better understand the University’s mission. “It was important for me to embrace what Gonzaga stands for as a Catholic, Jesuit university,” he says. “As Trustees we need to live it, not just understand it. Seeing firsthand the places that St. Ignatius journeyed and to imagine what he faced when creating the Society of Jesus was a priceless experience.”

A Defining Moment

When planning began, it was of utmost importance to McCulloh and members of the Mission Integration Committee that this be a true pilgrimage: a journey that deepens an individual’s understanding of themselves and their personal relationship to God. This pilgrimage was spiritual in focus and mission- driven in purpose: an opportunity to see the heart of the Church and 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 the call we are receiving today, as a Jesuit work in the world. While just five full days, the impacts of the pilgrimage will continue to be felt for years to come.

Says Larsen:

“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.”

“We’re a Jesuit university in a time when the number of American Jesuits is declining, and the question continues to be asked: ‘What are we doing to maintain our Jesuit identity?’ Father General shared directly with our Trustees what he wants, what he sees, where there are opportunities. There are important decisions and priorities here,” McCulloh says. “Part of this pilgrimage was not so much in finding answers, but in better understanding the questions our Trustees need to be asking. I’m so grateful for our Trustees’ commitment to this pilgrimage: It is in their hands that the future of this Jesuit work rests.”

To Give is to Receive

The Trustee pilgrimage was about deepening awareness, taking time to absorb and reflect, finding joy in the unexpected, and strengthening bonds – between individuals and institutions alike. And, as with all such pilgrimages, it is hoped that the investment of time and energy yields rich rewards, for each individual and for Gonzaga University’s present and future, as well.

Christy Larsen with Pope Francis © Vatican Media
Christy Larsen with Pope Francis © Vatican Media

Q&A with Board Chair Christy Larsen

When the idea of the Trustee pilgrimage was first discussed, what went through your mind?

Planning the pilgrimage was set in motion under former Trustee Chair Paul Brajcich’s leadership. In conjunction with the president, it was his, along with Trustee Emerita Rita Liebelt’s vision to bring the Board back to our Jesuit roots. As Trustees, we work to animate Gonzaga’s Mission, and understand how to articulate it within our community. This pilgrimage is a step in our efforts to meld the broader and more complex elements of the Jesuit tradition with the work we are doing at Gonzaga. In finalizing the plans, my hope was to bring the Board together with intention, in a shared experience that would serve to strengthen our relationship with our faith and each other.

As board chair, your leadership is fundamental to the success and strategic growth of our institution. How did this trip change, adjust or inspire how you view your role?

The pilgrimage further honed my focus, particularly when we talk about not just who we want to be as a university, but how we want to show up in our community and the greater world. Having the opportunity to spend time with the leadership of the Jesuits and the Catholic Church renewed my belief that we are on the right path: Our priorities are aligned with our Mission, we have a strong commitment to our Jesuit and Catholic identity, and we believe the Apostolic Preferences are to be prioritized. Father General reinforced that the work is far from done, and encouraged us to be bold in our efforts. I don’t have to be told twice to be bold, so I am running with it!

What about this trip was most important, memorable and valuable to you?

As a student, the relationships and bonds built with your friends and fellow students is extraordinary because you’re sharing a unique experience. As Board members, we had a similar opportunity; shared long days front-loaded with education, afternoons convening and breaking bread, and evenings in conversation about where Gonzaga is today and its future of great opportunity. We entered this journey as a strong group committed to Gonzaga University; we came home as a strong unit with a great sense of purpose, ready to continue our important work. Christy Larsen with Pope Francis © Vatican Media

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