Spirit of the Times

First vice president for Mission and Ministry finds BC's spiritual underpinnings deep and strong

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

Though he's been on campus as a student, faculty member and Jesuit for most of the last 50 years, Joseph A. Appleyard, SJ, is, in some ways, just coming to know the place.

Fr. Appleyard, who recently began his second semester as the University's first vice president for University Mission and Ministry, said that as he has delved into the religious and spiritual underpinnings that support Boston College's Catholic, Jesuit identity, he has been surprised by their depth and strength.

"It's truly amazing the number of things that are going on," he said. "I don't have to invent anything new, just support the things that are already going on."

Vice President for Mission and Ministry Joseph A. Appleyard, SJ-"Our students, in general, come here without very much religious culture. A lot of them are looking for it; a lot don't even know they're going to be looking for it when they get here. There's a hunger for values and meaning."
Student retreats and volunteer opportunities, he noted, are numerous and frequent, and many have waiting lists that demonstrate their popularity. He added that an ongoing set of seminars on student formation, organized by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, has drawn 55 of the 70 faculty members and administrators invited to participate.

When he arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1949, the curriculum focused students' view of the world through theological and philosophical lenses. Over the ensuing decades, the curriculum broadened and societal forces shifted the focus, but he now sees a renewed appreciation for the traditional Jesuit perspective.

"We live in a culture where people's religious experience has been somewhat undernourished," he said. "It's a culture that places a high emphasis on sports, entertainment and academic success, but it's not a culture that has nourished people spiritually.

"Our students, in general, come here without very much religious culture. A lot of them are looking for it; a lot don't even know they're going to be looking for it when they get here. There's a hunger for values and meaning."

That hunger, he added, extends beyond students and includes faculty and staff. Fr. Appleyard noted the enduring popularity of such programs as Human Resource's Shared Visions, which introduces faculty and staff to the Jesuit tradition, and the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life program run by Prof. Emeritus James Skehan, SJ (Geology). Fr. Appleyard added that he would like to further develop programs to orient new employees to the Jesuit educational tradition.

"As someone once said to me, people who come here should understand as much about Jesuit education as they do about their health plan," he said.

Fr. Appleyard also is co-chairing the new Council on Student Formation, a role he sees as providing the opportunity to mix faculty and students outside of the classroom and deepen the Boston College experience for both. As a professor of English who has taught in the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program since 1967, he brings a faculty member's perspective to the task.

"The challenge here is to think about ways of encouraging the connection between students' lives inside of class and their lives outside of class," he said. "For example, how do we get faculty involved in the lives of students as mentors, and create connections between students' residential and intellectual lives?"

Helping students appreciate diversity is another area where Fr. Appleyard sees a need. "Boston College is more diverse than the places most of our students grew up in," he said. "How do we capitalize on that and turn it into something positive? How do we teach students to be open to people who are different from them; not just tolerate them, but learn from them?"

Fr. Appleyard said he sees his job as promoting the intellectual, ethical, moral, religious and spiritual aspects of Boston College, and "helping all those things happen without coercion." Creating an environment that fosters those dimensions of the University, he said, helps influence the lives of students well beyond their undergraduate years.

"Students are going to form values by default, by the kind of place they're living in and what they're doing," he said.

As he's fielded informational queries from colleges and universities around the country, he has discovered that Boston College is not alone in its quest to strengthen its identity. But he feels BC may have a jump on the others.

"There are a lot of things that are happening," he said. "If we just keep doing them and doing them better, then we won't need a vice president for Mission and Ministry."

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