On 2 July 2023, the Kircher Network General Assembly of Presidents and Deans had its shining start along with the Blended Intensive Programme. As the participants arrived and enjoyed an appetizing cocktail, old friends and colleagues got to reunite, new acquaintances were made and matters concerning the events of the upcoming days were discussed.
As it began on the morning of the 3rd of July, Philip Geister, SJ, president of the Kircher Network, celebrated the long-awaited start of the Assembly, as the covid-19 pandemic had delayed the in-person meeting for more than two years.
Franck Janin, SJ, introduced his lecture “the Jesuit context of higher education in Europe: calls and expectations of the Society of Jesus from the Kircher Universities and centres in the next five years”, centering around the essential task of Jesuit institutions of creating the best possible individuals for society.
The Society of Jesus has created some of the best educational methods in active use today, always focusing on the teaching of critical thinking to students. Education in critical thinking is absolutely necessary, because a critical mind takes the long, hard way of thinking, and accepts debate and conversation with others. Jesuit universities must become places for such thinking.
Franck Janin, SJ
The Society of Jesus must expect, as well, openness in initiatives of critical thinking and universal apostolate preferences, as critical thinking encourages the search for meaning and truth, which contributes to the search for God
Thus, Ignatian values and views must always guide the following question: what kind of students do we want to raise? And this question has a simple answer: people who seek to be with others, not to serve their egos but to serve them, as service learning must be the Christian path every student at a Jesuit institution should strive to follow throughout their life.
Joseph Christie, SJ, expanded on this subject and more by showing several strengths of the Ignatian vision. He spoke, specifically, about the pivotal matter of empowering students at Jesuit universities and institutions around the world.
Joseph Christie, SJ
The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become
He advocated for the role Ignatian teachings to create educated members of society who are able to perceive, judge, and think for themselves and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.
The strengths of the Jesuit institutions and vision have produced many leaders in plenty of far-reaching fields of study, with great contributions to society, not just in education but also science, philosophy, economics and, perhaps most crucially, politics and diplomacy in times of great need, such as the role of the Jesuits in the Commission for the Clarification of Truth regarding the crimes committed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and their impacts on the people.
Therefore, the Jesuit identity must be protected, defended and properly implemented in its institutions, as it is the Jesuit spirit that creates and maintains strong students that will go out to create a better world. However, there are many challenges to be overcome, as accessibility to areas that require the aid of the Jesuit Order has become harder to reach, and universities are facing a crisis of students dealing with mental health issues as never before. This matter was thoroughly discussed at the Assembly afterward, as the confusion and chaos of a world in rapid change and in times of transition from an established worldview to an uncertain one are making many students feel lost and directionless. This situation must be properly analyzed and solved as soon as possible, as the causes are still very misunderstood and it risks endangering the future of the Jesuit institutions, of those directly impacted by mental health illnesses and of society as a whole.
The afternoon concluded with an overview of the annual report, as the participants went over the budget, and debated on the various ways to implement further Kircher Network initiatives in education: such as using the full extent of the Erasmus programme to its advantage to create Kircher-specific international collaborations, and designing online courses, preferably in English, with the intention of reaching students who cannot afford international mobility.
After a visit to the stunning Saint Loup church, the evening was filled with an exceptionally pleasant dinner at the Château de Namur, where matters of the day were discussed by participants of both conferences in a more informal manner as they enjoyed the spectacular view of the city of Namur.