Women Reflect on Being Part of the Global Ignatian Family

Compiled by Doris Sump, MegAnne Liebsch and Valeria Méndez de Vigo

Superior General Father Arturo Sosa, SJ, at a listening session of women gathering to mark fifty years of the Secretariat for Social Justice and Integral Ecology (SJES) in November 2019.

To make the essential equality of women a lived reality…is a genuine “sign of the times.”(GC34, Decree 14, 5)

March 6, 2020 — Sunday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, which celebrates global women’s rights and achievements. It’s also a reminder of the need to review the structures, cultures and relationships that perpetuate gender inequality and to create an environment, culture and church where women and men have equal opportunity to exercise their rights and develop our full potential worldwide.

Women play a prominent role in advancing the mission of the Jesuits worldwide, whether as teachers, communications managers, social ministers or justice advocates. The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States and the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome asked some of these women to reflect on their work with the global Society of Jesus and what it means, as a woman, to work in a Jesuit institution:

The only place that I have ever worked since graduating from college is a Jesuit organization: the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU). Among the myriad benefits of working for an organization like AJCU is the opportunity to gain as mentors both Jesuits and lay people alike. And among those lay people are women who I consider “rock stars” and role models for all women working in Jesuit higher education today: Stephanie Russell, Linda LeMura and Jeanne Lord, to name just a few. These women animate the Jesuit mission so thoughtfully in their work and do so with grace and humility. I’m blessed to know them through AJCU and grateful for their colleagueship and friendship.

—Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, USA

For a little over a year I have been working for the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus in Rome, where I coordinate our efforts in networking, communications and public advocacy. For me, working in the Jesuit social sector means uniting faith and justice and working for social transformation. It also means doing so in an institution that combines working with people on the margins of the world with the more structural work of analysis, of activism for human rights, of public advocacy. The struggle for global justice also involves gender justice. The Society of Jesus must also advance gender justice in order to continue being relevant in the church and in the world.

—Valeria Méndez de Vigo, Network, Advocacy and Communication Coordinator, Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat, Rome

I am grateful to be a part of the work of the Society of Jesus through Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Based on my 10-year experience working with JRS, the Jesuits do not neglect the role of lay persons, especially women, in reaching out to marginalized people. The Jesuits I work with are friendly, simple, approachable and sensitive to the needs of the people including women lay collaborators. They gave me opportunities to grow personally, professionally and spiritually. I feel empowered, accompanied and loved, which motivates me to serve the people we accompany.

—Roslyn Kayah, Director, Jesuit Refugee Services Myanmar, Myanmar

I have always considered my work in Jesuit education to be among the greatest blessings of my life. I have spent 21 years working and learning in school communities with a Jesuit mission that deeply roots me and has become a part of who I am. It is nearly impossible to articulate how much I have learned from my colleagues, both Jesuit and lay, men and women, not to mention the incredible students with whom I have been fortunate to work over the years. I find immense value in the Jesuit spirit of openness and pursuit of growth that permeates our learning communities, as well as the tenet of cura personalis and the sense of challenge that is fostered in every endeavor.

As a female leader in our network, I have come to believe that Jesuit educators are called to be leaders in the conversation on gender; in building gender awareness in our schools and among our students, in creating space for our collective learning around a topic that is at the heart of our shared value of nurturing and building inclusive communities. Given our mission – our focus on relationships, on seeing God in all things, on valuing the person sitting in front of us, on being bridges in the context of hope – this charge to support issues of gender in real and meaningful ways in today’s world is more important than ever. I am grateful to have been a part of Jesuit communities who value these ideals and have supported and encouraged my voice along the way.

—Dr. Kristin R. Cully, Director of Research Development and New Ventures, Jesuit Schools Network, USA

The phrase “Jesuit institution” strikes me at many levels, and as a woman, the impact is both professional and personal. I work with a Jesuit research and training organization in the Philippines that engages regionally and globally, locally and nationally, in promoting environmental sustainability and seeking social change. The values that I hold as a professional woman — respect, equity, equality, honesty, transparency, accountability, participation, among others — are values also held dearly and firmly in the institution. This integration therefore is empowering and fulfilling for me at a personal level, and I draw on these values in times of challenges and frustrations. I have great admiration for the brilliant minds and caring hearts I have encountered in the women and men of the Society of Jesus. They contribute greatly to deepening my faith. And, it is this deepened faith that allows me to improve and become a better mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and a partner and co-worker in the mission.

—Sylvia Miclat, Executive Director, Environmental Science for Social Change, the Philippines

Jesuit Institutions very much promote the value of the constitution of India. Our constitution affirms the values of JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and FRATERNITY that assures the dignity of the individual.

In working with the global Society of Jesus, I am given equal opportunity in every stage of work; freedom of expression of thoughts and ideas; and respect for the dignity of the individual. My roles and responsibilities are very much taken into consideration.

—Sr. Ruby Mary Kujur, Program Coordinator, Lok Manch, India

This is a wonderful time to be a woman at a Jesuit University! Papa Francisco’s appointment of a woman to Vatican management demonstrates his commitment that women “be fully included in decision-making processes,” and signals a new era ripe with opportunity. There is a clear emphasis on diversity and inclusion that translates into hiring and a change in tone at meetings. Programs at our Center for Mission and Identity are both a haven and inspiration to share Jesuit values. Our students now see women and people of color who look like them, and our student body looks like a model UN. I love it!

—Eileen Alexander, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Health Services Administration, Xavier University, USA

It has been a privilege in my life as a woman, wife and mother of two children to share the closeness of both Jesuits and lay people who are committed to bringing about just change for the most vulnerable. The fact that I am a woman involved in various works of the Jesuits has allowed me to experience different realities and to participate in small changes that make a big difference to society.

On a personal level, I've experienced a spiritual and professional growth that invites me to always share the Magis.

—Lea Montes Lagos, Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, Nicaragua

In 2018, I joined the Jesuit Institute South Africa, which provided an opportunity to directly contribute to the Society’s work of justice and mission. The Jesuit Social Apostolate plays a crucial role in society, giving a voice to the marginalized. I have worked in South Africa on two projects that focused specifically on gender justice, racial justice, poverty and advocacy for migrants.

I have experienced the presence, support and love of God in my journey in the Jesuit Social Apostolate in many ways. The Jesuit Social Apostolate has done a tremendous job in many parts of the world, often playing an important role where institutional structures fail to minister to the needs of the larger society. This is what keeps me being a collaborator: being part of a mission that makes an impact on the marginalized and forming people who are increasingly justice-conscious.

—Sr. Katleho Khang, SNJM, Jesuit Institute, South Africa

Working at a Jesuit Institution has provided me with the opportunity to live and work grounded in my faith. Ignatian spirituality is the basis for how we work and how we lead: with an understanding that God is active in our world, in our work, in the people we work with and come in contact with, thus, seeking to find God in all things.

—Suzanne Krudys, Special Counsel to the President and Socius, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., USA

My nephew recently asked me, why do you as a woman who believes in justice and liberation, work for a male religious order in the Catholic Church? Good question, I thought. Sometimes I ask myself the same thing!

I replied that I have the privilege to work side by side with women and men who work each day for justice, peace, equality and for the care of our common home. They inspire me with their courage, dedication and deep faith. 

They, like me, have been inspired by the Society of Jesus’ commitment to social justice. For some of these men and women, this commitment has translated into persecution, oppression and sometimes even death. When they accompany the poor and excluded of the earth, they see firsthand that poverty and oppression have a feminine face and that peace, justice and reconciliation will only be achieved if women can live in dignity and have equal rights. They, like me, know that much work needs to be done to bring justice in our world, in the Society of Jesus and in the church, including a greater voice and justice for women. Rooted in Ignatian spirituality, I, along with thousands of women who work in a Jesuit institution, continue my commitment with the knowledge that our presence is important and that together we can fulfill the vision of a world where everyone’s dignity is respected.

—Jenny Cafiso, Director, Canadian Jesuits International, Canada

I am a Jesuit collaborator who has founded my own non-profit independently through the help of the Jesuits. My last 27 years have been a very awesome journey with Jesuits.

We have walked together, sharing the journey to create a better world for marginalized people, especially in India!

—Dr. Vaishali Patil, Founder and Secretary, Ankur Trust, India

Being a woman and a part of a Jesuit institution allows me to empower my students to become “men and women for others,” whole persons of solidarity through the courses I teach. Having the support of my Jesuit Institution (Xavier) allows me to inspire my students to see life and the whole universe as a “gift calling forth wonder and gratefulness.”

—Dr. Leslie Ann Prosak-Beres, Associate Professor, Xavier University, USA

­Being part of a Jesuit institution has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was struggling starting my career after college at typical corporations, and I really felt like my needs and values weren’t matched in my previous places of work. At Xavier, I found a home and a family among my team and the amazing friendships I have cultivated. It’s a joy to come to work and know I have an impact on others’ lives, and I truly feel I can grow and thrive in this environment. Go X!

—Laura Doppler, Information Technologies, Xavier University, USA

As a new member of a Jesuit institution, I have been on both a spiritual and educational journey as I learn about my institution, as well as myself, through reflection and growth as I come to understand Ignatian principles and values. Being a part of a Jesuit institution means embracing the unique qualities in everyone, in ways that develop competence and compassion. As a woman, this is highly valuable and important to me as there can be so many sectors in society in which these qualities are often not displayed or even appreciated. Working at an institution that holds to a “faith that does justice” can be entirely supportive and empowering at the same time when we hold each other accountable to these values.

—Tiffany Galvin Green, Ph.D., Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, John Carroll University, USA

It is quite maternal — I have the honor to work alongside my (sister) colleagues in my university, my country and across the globe to educate tomorrow’s leaders and improve the health and livelihood of today’s generation.

—Debra K. Mooney, Ph.D., Vice President for Mission & Identity/CMO, Xavier University, USA

The Society has given me much and I am so grateful to return that and contribute to its mission. One of those things it’s provided to me is a network of insightful, contemplative and generous women collaborators who have unique gifts to offer each other and the world. We’re only beginning to fully break open that network and I’m excited to be a part of that movement: it gives me great hope for the future of the Society, the church and the people we serve.

—Doris Sump, Communications Manager, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, USA

In the video below, Maria del Carmen Muñoz, coordinator at CINEP (Center for Research and Popular Education), in Colombia and Maria del Mar Magallón, director of ALBOAN (Jesuit development cooperation organization) in Bilbao, Spain speak at the 50th anniversary celebration for the Secretariat for Social Justice and Integral Ecology.


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