Jesuit Higher Education and the Legacy of Paul Locatelli, S.J.

by Ron Hansen |

Late in 2006, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, then Superior General for the Society of Jesus, appointed Santa Clara University President Paul Locatelli as the first Secretary for Higher Education, headquartered in the Roman Curia.

His tasks were to convene meetings of the International Committee on Jesuit Higher Education, plan periodic meetings of Jesuit university presidents, encourage programs of collaboration among Jesuit universities, and provide important perspectives on higher education to the Superior General.

At first it was not considered a full-time job and Fr. Locatelli continued as a university president in California, but soon after the 35th General Congregation elected Fr. Adolfo Nicolás as the Society’s 30th Superior General, Fr. Locatelli was asked to expand his role to include overseeing the worldwide Intellectual Apostolate, and he took up residence in Rome.

With some 180 institutions of higher education in roughly 50 countries, the Society of Jesus has an incomparable network of colleges and universities, and Fr. Locatelli was excited by the technology-based opportunity to develop a virtual Jesuit university that could in time be international and, through the Internet, reach any learner with a computer, benefitting students, faculty, and the Church, and addressing serious contemporary problems.

Fr. Locatelli’s doctorate was in accounting, and he had written and spoken frequently on topics ranging from community-based learning in accounting, the role of the teaching scholar, Jesuit education in a globalizing world, educating for justice, and Catholic education in the 21st century. So it was only natural that he soon began planning an international conference that would consider the shifting future for Jesuit education in that globalizing world and would invite as participants not just institutional presidents, rectors, and vice presidents of academic affairs, but lay faculty Jesuit Higher Education and the Legacy of Paul Locatelli, S.J. By Ron Hansen Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J. Professor, English Department, Santa Clara University Reflections on the “Shaping the Future” Conference, Mexico City, 2010 and collaborators as well—the first time that had been done. And he decided, crucially, that the conference would be held not in the United States, or Europe, but in a developing country.

Fr. José Morales Orozco, rector of the Universidad Iberoamericana, Ciudad de México, graciously offered to host. Banamex, Mexico’s largest financial institution, provided considerable funding for the conference and made possible some scholarships for Jesuits from developing countries in Asia and Africa.

In 2007, Fr. Locatelli had conducted a survey of the international Society of Jesus requesting that each region name five principal challenges it was facing. Consequently the conference, titled “Networking Jesuit Higher Education for the Globalizing World: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe,” focused on “frontier challenges” such as the ethical and religious dimensions of inequality and poverty; theology, science, and culture; ecology and sustainability; Jesuit mission and identity; and human rights as they related to the work of Jesuit institutions worldwide.

Jesuit professors and their colleagues were invited to submit scholarly papers on their subjects of expertise to which other authorities responded; Superior General Adolfo Nicolás agreed to deliver the keynote address on the challenges to Jesuit higher education and the intellectual apostolate today; and mixed working groups were established to discuss and draw conclusions from the talks in order to facilitate a forward movement of the Society of Jesus into and through the 21st century.

Unfortunately, through an administrative snafu some group reports were erased from the computers in which the notes were stored, and a few reports, if compiled, were otherwise lost. But we have a significant representation of the discussions of the hundreds in attendance during those three days in April.

The working group on “Catholic Identity and Jesuit Mission,” for example, urged that there be a survey of all Jesuit institutions of higher education to note how mission statements reflected Catholic, Jesuit values of the institution, and to query, measure, and evaluate how student outcomes reflected accomplishment of each element of the mission statement. The group imagined a team representing diverse regions that could function like accrediting agencies in examining the Catholic, Jesuit goals of the institution, ascertaining how those goals had been realized, and making recommendations that would encourage and inspire a closer alignment with the founding principles of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Another international working group, on “Theology, Science, and Culture,” proposed a think tank dedicated to analyzing and evaluating culture. Regional consultations uniting similar cultural legacies would follow, and then Jesuit institutions would respond to the cultural analysis and evaluation with factual, imaginative, analytical, and experiential learning.

Former SCU President Paul Locatelli, S.J., addresses a gathering at the Mexico City conference in April 2010. Photo credit Charles Barry


Through teaching, research, advocacy, and action, the working group on “Ecology and Sustainability” hoped that the network would encourage development of curricula that address sustainability issues and teach a certain level of environmental literacy; increase research on such things as the relationships among ecology, environmental justice, poverty, migration, deforestation, and the loss of biodiversity; and create a collaborative action project and an assessment tool to measure each institution’s progress in sustainability.

The subject of “Markets, Inequality, and Poverty” reminded participants of the transcendent dignity of the human person and the requirement to alleviate poverty and foster a more equitable society. To do that, some practical steps were promoted: one, to help the poor improve the quality of their services and products to meet international standards and help them find sustainable markets globally so they earn higher returns for their labor; two, organize local self-help groups and cooperatives to instill in the poor the habit of thrift and increase their collective creditworthiness; three, focus on some segment among the growing service sectors, and empower the youth among the poor to capitalize on emerging opportunities; four, introduce organic farming, food processing, packing, and marketing; and, five, where there is demand in affluent countries, train youths and find employment for them in skilled physical labor like driving, plumbing, and care for children, the elderly, and the ill.

Santa Clara Magazine editor Steven Boyd Saum, SCU President Michael Engh, S.J., and SCU English Professor Ron Hansen at the Mexico City conference in April 2010. Photo credit Charles Barry


And a working group on “Human Rights and Civic Responsibility” noted that Jesuit institutions of higher learning were ideally suited for hosting a consortium of human rights practitioners and Jesuit apostolic partners to be better educators for justice and more effective actors countering injustice. The group proposed a foundational document on human rights that would be adopted by all Jesuit institutions, drawing on the statements about justice, peace, and human rights in recent General Congregations of the Society of Jesus. The group urged a continuing and rigorous self-examination by Jesuit universities regarding their just structures and investment practices; an equal participation of women in governance; a closer linkage with human rights organizations; curricular exposure for all students to human rights and peace issues, inducing as far as possible Catholic social teaching; and a distinctively Ignatian and academic promotion of a culture of peace in which human rights might flourish.

All those collaborative goals are either in progress or in their incipient stages and all were coherent with the goals of the conference initiator, who did not yet realize that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer when he helmed the conference in April 2010. Paul L. Locatelli, S.J., entered into Eternal Life less than three months later on July 12.

His “Shaping the Future” conference is just one shining aspect of his wonderful legacy as a Jesuit priest, scholar, administrator, and friend.

When the editors of Santa Clara alumni magazine first began talking with Paul about reporting on the Mexico City conference, he said he thought the real news story would have to do with what happened afterward. This issue of the explore journal is a first step in the realization of Fr. Locatelli’s ambitions.

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