Spiritual Center

Under the direction of Howard Gray, SJ, the new Center for Ignatian Spirituality is making inroads

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Now settled into its permanent home, the Center for Ignatian Spirituality continues to build relationships within the University, and is making some important connections to the American Catholic and Jesuit academic communities, according to center Director Howard Gray, SJ.

Created through an agreement between the University and the Jesuit Community at Boston College, the center develops programs on Jesuit education and Ignatian spirituality; organizes retreats and other activities that help faculty and staff to integrate Ignatian values in their professional or personal lives; and encourages those wishing to lead this process in their areas of the University.

A two-day open house last week at the center's Rahner House office served as its formal introduction to the campus.

Howard Gray, SJ-"I look upon this semester as one of shaping for the future. The mix of interests and requests we see are far-ranging and demand different responses. I am just trying to see what needs we can meet, even as I become more familiar with Boston College as an institution." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
In a recent interview, Fr. Gray noted that the center already has formed ties within the University. Since his arrival last year, Fr. Gray said, he has led workshops, presented seminars and met with individuals to discuss various aspects of Ignatian spirituality in the academic setting. These activities are helpful in determining the direction of the center, Fr. Gray said, and how it will best serve the University community.

"I look upon this semester as one of shaping for the future," he said. "The mix of interests and requests we see are far-ranging and demand different responses. I am just trying to see what needs we can meet, even as I become more familiar with Boston College as an institution.

"One thing I've been struck by is the dedication I've seen to the students here and the professionalism of those people who keep alive the programs and systems to serve them," Fr. Gray added. "Those qualities reflect the philosophy of 'care for the individual' which helps to make Boston College and Jesuit education distinctive. That philosophy is the basis for the reflection and conversation we hope the center can support throughout BC."

Fr. Gray sees a number of possibilities for the center's involvement. In some cases, the center might take a systemic, structured approach, such as the eight-session workshop on cura personalis and student living Fr. Gray is leading for University Housing administrators and staff. Using excerpts from the 1993 book The First Jesuits by John O'Malley, SJ, and other materials, the workshop focuses on how the Ignatian-Jesuit tradition has an impact on student development in their college years.

In other cases, Fr. Gray continued, "the approach is more episodic: There is an opportunity to become familiar with a system or department and at the same time explain what the center's mission is and why it's important." Toward that end, he spoke at a retreat last month for Office of Admission personnel, and is planning similar talks with representatives from Human Resources and the Carroll School of Management. He also has met with students in the Philosophy Department's "Perspectives" program.

Where possible, Fr. Gray added, he also has spoken privately with individuals who have questions, or simply want to talk about the relationship of Jesuit and Ignatian spirituality to their lives.

"These roles aren't necessarily distinct from one another," Fr. Gray said. "If it's an interprofessional discussion on issues surrounding student life, a systemic process which combines different audiences, I would see myself as more participant than a facilitator. The important thing, again, is to assess what's needed and how the center can address this need."

One of the most important long-term functions of the center is to spur other members of the University to initiate and maintain their own conversations on Ignatian and Jesuit spirituality, Fr. Gray said.

"Whether it's something that takes off from a workshop or other event, or starts up on its own, we want to encourage it," he said. "The center is not meant to be a one-person operation, nor is it a substitute for the reflection and conversation already taking place. It's one more resource meant to help BC create a truly ecumenical environment, where the integrating principle is the Jesuit and Catholic tradition."

Fr. Gray sees his visits to other Jesuit and Catholic institutions, such as Georgetown Prep and Xavier University, as another important function of the center.

"There's a growing understanding now that Boston College is working systematically to relate its work and scholarship more explicitly to the distinctiveness of its Jesuit tradition," he explained. "BC's experience might therefore serve as a model in the discussion on how to enhance the quality of student life in higher education."

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