The intellectual apostolate is ‘part of Jesuit DNA’

A recent meeting of the intellectual apostolate in Melbourne reflected on the words of Fr General Arturo Sosa, who described Jesuit universities as ‘a community of spiritual interests committed to the search for truth’, writes Micheál Loughane from Jesuit College of Spirituality.

On Friday 10 August, a meeting of the intellectual apostolate was held at Faber House in Parkville, Vic. It was a convivial gathering where much sharing took place.

It began with a presentation by CEO Principal Deb Kent and Fr Gerry Healy SJ, both of whom attended the meeting of the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) in Spain in July. The purpose of that meeting was to share academic experiences with a wider group of Jesuits and lay companions.

Meeting of the intellectual apostolate was held at Faber House in Parkville, Vic.

Meeting of the intellectual apostolate was held at Faber House in Parkville, Vic.

Part of their report contained the text from the keynote address delivered by Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ. He referred to the 36th General Congregation, which stated: ‘Our educational apostolates … should help form men and women committed to reconciliation and able to confront obstacles to reconciliation and propose solutions.’

When we gathered on that Friday evening to pray and reflect together, it felt as though we were modelling the reconciliation and spirit of harmony and common purpose that seems so uncommon in contemporary public discourse.

I think it is true to say all of us at that gathering were inspired by the vision promoted by the Father General. He offered a clear and stirring vision for Jesuit universities.

The university, he suggests, is ‘a community of spiritual interests committed to the search for truth … It is a privileged space for exercising human freedom. Freedom to search and find the paths of social transformation through research and teaching.

‘It is a space in which the message of liberation of the Good News of the Gospel can contribute to finding better ways to generate life in the midst of difficulties and uncertainty, which seek to overwhelm the daily lives of most men and women, opening a space for hope to enter.’

It seems to me that ‘inner liberation’ and the search for a generative life that raises up all life, particularly those who are in a weak or disadvantaged state, is what spirituality and spiritual direction are all about. It is a profound challenge that requires effort and dedication, but ultimately is experienced as a mission.

In a contemporary context of fake news, ubiquitous commercialism and commodification, the need to interpret and understand the forces that shape public and personal consciousness was never greater. Now more than ever we need intelligent, measured and incisive research and analysis.

It was gratifying to read in the strategic plan of the IAJU the encouragement to ‘seek depth in understanding for both research and pedagogical purposes in order to avoid superficial interpretation of the truth or of motives and intentions of others’.

Among the group there was strong affirmation for those Jesuits and other associates in mission who are engaged in public discourse in a variety of contexts: through secondary and tertiary education, publications and public advocacy. There is much great work being done to engage with the issues that impact on public wellbeing.

As the Father General affirmed: the intellectual apostolate ‘is a part of our Jesuit DNA’. Jesuit ministries then are already answering the call to be of service to the Church and the wider society, not just within tertiary education, but through offering intellectual, moral, and spiritual leadership in many public arenas.

At the end of the evening a number of Jesuits and lay companions in the room shared their current research. To hear the rich variety of topics and disciplines being studied was fascinating, enriching, and inspiring.

The meeting closed with a feeling of mutual encouragement and hope, and I think all went away with a strong sense of confirmation of the importance of the intellectual apostolate to the Jesuit vision and mission — a sense that we are part of a movement, impelled by the Spirit, that ‘transmits the meaning of a reconciled and peaceful life’.

Micheál Loughnane is Academic Dean and Research Coordinator at Jesuit College of Spirituality.