Living the Mission:
When the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) visited Fordham a few years ago, he disclosed a pressing concern.
The leaders of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities across the country, he reported, were worried that changing cultural values were eclipsing the crux of Jesuit education.
“He said to me, ‘Ten years from now, will people even know we are Catholic and Jesuit institutions?’” recalled Msgr. Joseph G. Quinn, vice president for University Mission and Ministry. “Will they even know what those words mean?”
Secular and university culture alike are indeed changing, Msgr. Quinn said, which means that institutions like Fordham need to revise their efforts to make their missions known and understood.
To those ends, the Office of Mission and Ministry has launched a University-wide effort known as Living the Mission. The campaign will spotlight the University mission statement in order to illuminate the values that are the cornerstone of Fordham.
“The intent is to point the attention of a community to its mission statement, to renew people’s awareness of what makes Fordham unique—what makes Fordham, Fordham,” Msgr. Quinn said. “What does it mean to be a Catholic Jesuit university in New York City?”
The effort kicked off with the release of 10,000 copies of a new prayer book, Fordham at Prayer. Featuring images of people and places around Fordham, the book offers a reflection on the purpose of prayer, and includes several chapters of prayers from a variety of religious traditions.
Along with the prayer books came posters that display the mission statement on photos of each of the three campuses.
“Now we’re beginning what we’re calling testimonials,” Msgr. Quinn said. “These are statements from students, faculty, and staff about what the mission means for them.” These full-length interviews will be broadcast across a variety of media, including WFUV and Fordham Nightly News, and excerpts from the testimonials will appear on posters on all three campuses.
Living the Mission will also be woven into University events. The campaign debuted at the well-attended conversation on faith and humor between Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and comedian Stephen Colbert, moderated by James Martin, S.J. Other lectures, Masses, and gatherings throughout the year will also incorporate the theme.
“The whole project is an undercurrent effort,” Msgr. Quinn said. “We wanted to stir up many of the events that go on every year with more intentional reflection on what is our mission and what it has to do with them.
“Our hope is that if we apply that filter of Living the Mission across the board, whether it’s facilities or finance, admissions or alumni, that it will enlarge, enhance, and transform who we are,” he added.
With this far-reaching goal, reflection on how to live the mission is already extending beyond the Office of Mission and Ministry.
Associate Professor of Biology Jason Morris, Ph.D., said that Fordham’s mission allows its educators to not only get at the what driving their courses, but also the why.
“Here, the ethical and philosophical questions that come up in my [genetics]classes aren’t treated as irrelevant distractions,” Morris said. “They are some of the reasons that the subjects I teach are so important for students to know in the first place.”
The mission also fosters inclusiveness, he noted.
“Religious and spiritual questions are taken seriously here, and they are welcomed as part of the ongoing intellectual conversation,” Morris said. “As an engaged Jew, I feel that gives me the freedom to participate in the life of the University as a complete person, and not simply as a geneticist or even simply as a geneticist who cares about the ethical questions that genetics provokes.”
Most importantly, he added, the best way, as a faculty member, to live the mission is to exemplify it for students—a point with which Gregory Acevedo, Ph.D., agreed.
“I communicate our mission by living it,” said Acevedo, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS). “Modeling and mentorship are important tools for wisdom and learning. Our mission should be clearly reflected in my behavior with the students and as they see me relate with my colleagues and members of the administration.
“As a faculty member, I think that means making a good-faith effort to treat everyone at Fordham as I would have them treat me.”
For Acevedo, this means encouraging learning and embracing diversity, especially for the sake of working to make a more just society.
“The core of the University’s mission is to educate men and women in service to others and prepare them for leadership around the world,” said Elaine Congress, D.S.W., professor and associate dean at GSS. “The Jesuit tradition speaks to the importance of love for the least-of-one’s neighbors and promoting justice for men and women.”
She said that the effort to live the mission manifests in Fordham’s myriad academic and extracurricular programs, fromprograms that train students in substance abuse counseling to international work with the United Nations.
“Fordham’s mission, the Jesuit mission, and GSS have provided a foundation for my life’s work as a social worker and in my daily role as a faculty member at Fordham,” she said.
According to Msgr. Quinn, the Living the Mission campaign will unfold over the coming months and years, leading up to the University’s 175th anniversary in 2016.
“Fordham’s whole purpose is to help transform the lives of those entrusted to its care, not only the students, but faculty, staff, alumni, and all who come in contact with what is Fordham,” Msgr. Quinn said.
“[With this campaign], we’re trying to underscore the best of Fordham in its history, its hopes, and its extraordinarily noble dreams,” he continued. “We want people to feel, ‘I belong to this. This is my place, this is who we are, and this is why we do what we do.’”