Good For The Souls

Fr. Appleyard reflects on his six years as leader of one of the world's largest Jesuit communities

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

His six-year term as rector of the Boston College Jesuit Community has been rewarding, but Prof. Joseph Appleyard, SJ (English), has no regrets about its imminent conclusion.

"It really is a good idea to change rectors every few years," said Fr. Appleyard, who will step down on July 31 and be succeeded by Asst. Prof. Francis Herrmann, SJ (Law). "The nature of the job is such that a fresh point of view helps the community. I've enjoyed the time I've spent in office, and now that time is almost at an end."

Prof. Joseph Appleyard, SJ (English), is completing his term as Jesuit rector. "Boston College is one of those institutions that attracts a lot of attention, and so its Jesuit Community takes on a similar prominence." (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Of course, Fr. Appleyard adds, the standard six-year appointment - administered by the superior general of the Society of Jesus - is one of many long-standing conventions associated with the job. While the rectorship has taken on some new features in recent decades, its essential purpose is unchanged, and like his predecessors Fr. Appleyard has sought to uphold that tradition.

"The best guide to what a rector does is in the Ignatian constitution," said Fr. Appleyard, who will take a sabbatical next academic year before returning to the faculty. "His primary duty is to be in conversation with members of the Jesuit community about their lives and formation. It is not about issuing directives or starting initiatives. You are there to help foster the religious life of the members, to look after the well-being of the community."

Overseeing one of the world's largest Jesuit communities - and one affiliated with a major university - offers added dimensions to the rector's job, Fr. Appleyard has found. Accordingly, he has sought to enhance its relationship with Boston College, involving the Jesuit Community in faculty and staff retreats or in programs such as Shared Vision, which introduces employees to the history and tradition of the Jesuit order.

"In the past 20 years or so," Fr. Appleyard said, "the Jesuit Community has reflected increasingly on its role within the University. In that process, the rector often acts as a facilitator, representing the Jesuit Community and helping organize whatever resources might be needed.

"Inevitably, the rector of this community is drawn into a national role among other community rectors and groups," he added. "Boston College is one of those institutions that attracts a lot of attention, and so its Jesuit Community takes on a similar prominence."

"Fr. Appleyard has been a godsend to the Jesuit Community, and the University," said Society of Jesus New England Provincial William Barry, SJ, who was Fr. Appleyard's predecessor in the rector's post. "Not only has he shown great compassion and care for the Jesuits, he has helped draw together various groups to discuss the Catholic-Jesuit nature of Boston College."

Fr. Barry pointed to the Shared Vision series as an example of the outreach typifying Fr. Appleyard's tenure. The program, a three-part series of videotapes and discussions chronicling the life and beliefs of St. Ignatius, his founding of the Society of Jesus, and the Jesuits' early years, has been popular with University staff and will become a required part of orientation for new employees in the fall.

In addition, under Fr. Appleyard the Jesuit Community sponsored a discussion program "Experiencing God: A Series of Conversations at Saint Mary's." The program featured speakers representing a variety of religious traditions and experiences, who offered their perspectives of and experiences with God and invited audience members to join in the conversation. Also, last spring the Jesuit Community established a $1,000 scholarship to honor outstanding undergraduates of Asian descent.

As gratifying as these initiatives have been, Fr. Appleyard said he has most enjoyed the interpersonal elements of the job. He also developed a strong appreciation for the "consulters" within the community and others who provide assistance to the rector.

"Just being in conversation with individuals, learning from them about their spiritual lives has been extraordinarily instructive to me," he said. "The kinds of discussions you have in an institution like this, about the spiritual dimensions of people's lives and work, and the way people talk about their ideals and care for one another - it is all very edifying."

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