After informing the young woman that I worked at Fordham University, she asked the next logical question, “And Fr. Barry, what do you do at Fordham?” My reply that I was an assistant dean in the College of Business Administration and adjunct professor in accounting and finance morphed her face into a puzzled stare.
During my years in university work, I have had this and similar conversations many times with students and colleagues alike. I suppose they picture university Jesuits teaching in the humanities or working in campus ministry. To them, a Jesuit working in business education does not add up, does not compute.
So one may wonder how I ended up in the College of Business Administration. I sometimes wonder myself. Let’s just say it was a circuitous route.
After completing my undergraduate degree in accounting from Creighton University, I worked in public accounting for four years, first in the Kansas City office of Arthur Young and then with a local firm, Merrigan & Associates. During these years I performed audits, prepared tax returns and provided consulting services.
However, since high school, I always had this idea of joining the Jesuits in the back of my mind. Finally, during the Easter Triduum liturgies in 1988, God put on a full-court press and infused me with the grace and courage to pursue admission into the Jesuits. I contacted the Jesuits at my alma mater, Rockhurst High School, the following week and set up an appointment with the vocation promoter for April 16, after the end of the tax season. I applied and was accepted in June. After quitting my job and selling my house, I entered the novitiate in August. The summer of 1988 is one that I will never forget.
For the next several years, I went through the normal course of formation without giving much thought to pursuing further studies in business. Luckily, my years of Jesuit education had given me some background in philosophy and theology, so studies in these areas were not totally foreign to me. In addition, the logical discipline of accounting aided in understanding the more systematic philosophers and theologians. However, I must admit that it took a while to get used to the nuances and gray areas of these disciplines after being educated in numerical exactitude.
In between my philosophy and theology studies I taught accounting and finance for two years at the Jesuit junior college in Belize City, Belize. This experience sparked my interest in both teaching and in working with college students.
Upon completion of my theology studies in May 1998, I got my wish to work with college students, but in a much different capacity. The next seven years were spent in campus ministry at St. Louis University. As my first assignment as a priest, I very much enjoyed my work in campus ministry. However, the desire to teach remained with me. In order to prepare myself for this ministry I pursued graduate studies at on a part-time basis. After three years of studies I completed my Master of Science in Finance in May 2005 and was ready to put my new degree to use.
Soon after graduation, the College of Business Administration at Fordham hired me as an assistant dean. In addition to my administrative and student advising responsibilities I am able to directly use my experience and education in business by teaching.
I must admit that there is a certain tension between religious life and the business world. My ministry does not fit the stereotypical Jesuit mold such as a professor in theology or philosophy or as a campus minister. However, it is nonetheless an important ministry for the Society and a vital area of evangelization.
Our last worldwide meeting, General Congregation 34, took place in 1995. This congregation stressed the importance of evangelizing cultures. One document from this congregation entitled “Our Mission and Culture” stated, “We commit ourselves to accompany people, in different contexts, as they and their culture make difficult transitions. We commit ourselves to develop the dimension of an inculturated evangelization within our mission of the service or faith and the promotion of justice.”
Without a doubt, business is a main cultural component in the United States and this culture permeates the entire world. As President Calvin Coolidge once proclaimed, “The business of America is business.”
Inculturation is not new to the Society of Jesus. In the 16th and 17th century, Jesuits endeavored to understand non-European cultures. Some became Confucian scholars and court astronomers in order to enter into the culture of China. Jesuits debated theology and philosophy in the court of Genghis Khan. Their hope was to influence the leaders of these countries and thus evangelize their respective cultures.
The same approach is needed today. Understanding the business culture and placing ourselves in the midst of this culture is crucial to continuing evangelization in the United States. We handicap ourselves in communicating faith and in promoting justice if we as Jesuits fail to engage the world of business. I think that is why our involvement in business education is so important. So this ministry does add up; it does compute.
There is no better place for me to engage this culture than at one of the top-ranked undergraduate business programs in the country, located in the business capital of the United States and arguably the world. It is my desire to continue Fordham’s tradition of influencing business leaders of tomorrow. I expect our graduates to incorporate their religious and ethical formation from Fordham into their business endeavors. In doing so, they will communicate their faith and promote justice.
I know that I will continue to get puzzled looks when I tell people of my work at Fordham. I take consolation in the fact that I am evangelizing a dominant part of our culture for the Kingdom of God.
The “Sapientia et Doctrina” section of Inside Fordham features first-person columns written by members of the Fordham Jesuit community and University faculty. Our Jesuit correspondents offer essays on teaching and learning from a Jesuit perspective, or focus on some aspect of scholarship as seen through the lens of Jesuit tradition. Faculty correspondents write on an academic topic: their own academic specialty or current research; or an aspect of scholarship, written for the lay person. The two types of columns alternate by issue.
For more information, please contact the editor, Victor Inzunza, at (212) 636-7576, [email protected].