Back in the year 2000, I announced to many friends and colleagues and family that I was leaving my job for a small private liberal arts college in Los Angeles, Calif. for a job up north at the University of San Francisco. I was surprised that so many of them contacted me with some trepidation and concern that I was making a move that was not well considered.
Several dozen asked me if I knew that my new employer was a Jesuit, Catholic school. Everyone asked me why I would ever choose to accept such a job offer. They worried that I would not feel comfortable or supported there, because of what they assumed would be an oppressive or dogmatic workplace. They told me things like, "Well, you would never be permitted to discuss 'X'," or "You would never be permitted to educate 'Y'?"
I told them then what I would tell anyone now: that the mission of the institution is what drew me to that school and it's what drew all the other students, faculty, and staff whom I knew and worked with there.
Yes, working as a layperson administrator and educator in that setting was not without its challenges. As diverse as the campus was and as committed to social justice as it was, there were still policy and protocol restrictions to consider. But my colleagues who worked at public colleges and universities fared no better and no worse: they had to deal with state legislatures that mandated certain parameters for their workplaces (like the elimination of race and gender considerations for employment or school admission in the state of California, or abstinence-based health education mandated in other states).
Ten years later, when I told my friends and colleagues and family that I was moving to St. Louis to start my job here at SLU in December 2010, they no longer questioned why I was continuing my career in Jesuit higher education. For all of the intricate complexities and complications that come with this work to educate global citizens about all issues (fill in the blank Xs and Ys), I think they all understood that it just makes sense for me to fit in here. And more importantly, it makes sense to me too.
What I have come to appreciate about working in a Jesuit, Catholic context is that the full complexity of human experience is cultivated, celebrated, and developed. That means discussions about sexual health are not just about latex barriers, but also about the full expression of love in human relationships. That means conversations about affirmative action are not just about race and ethnicity, but also about social, political, and legal systems of inequity, disparity, and injustice. That means explorations in the topic of sustainability are not just about saving the environment for future generations, but also about the moral and ethical obligation to care for all of creation. And it means that inquiries about globalization and terrorism are not just about military actions, but also about the diversity and history of faith traditions that give millions of people reason and hope to live.
In fact, it is precisely because of our mission that I feel it is possible for us to ask other "why" questions: why is there catastrophe and hurt and violence in the world, why do some people suffer, why do I feel one way and think another way and believe something else, why do we continue to invest in educational processes when their outcomes are so hard to measure and quantify and justify, etc.?
When I say I believe "mission matters," I mean that beyond buzzwords like "magis," or "cura personalis," or "women and men for and with others." We have an obligation to recognize the tremendous privilege we have of working in an educational workplace that fully engages our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits to achieve the best we can and to improve the world for the best it can be. And it has only ever been in a Catholic and Jesuit environment that I have ever felt free enough to live up to the challenge of that high calling with my full personhood, at the intersections of many "why" questions. Instead of worrying about the constrictions of (usually misinformed and misunderstood) dogma, we should be grateful at SLU for the unconstrained purpose of imagining how we can achieve a better world. And after all, that purpose comes right from our mission.
Ray Quirolgico, Ed.D., assistant vice president for Student Development, will kick off the Saint Louis University Mission Brown Bag Lunch program from noon-1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, in the Knights Room at Piux XII Memorial Library.
Quirolgico will present "X, Y: At the Crossroads of 'Why?'" and explore his own reflections of the SLU Mission and his work at SLU, helping us all honestly examine the phrase, mission matters, in our own work and lives.