A look into GU’s Jesuit history | News

Alma L. Figueroa

At Gonzaga University, the word “Jesuit” is often used, as it is a Jesuit university founded by Jesuit priests and steeped in the Jesuit mission. But who are the Jesuits, and what do they do? 

In about 1534, Ignatius of Loyola and nine other companions founded the Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus, to be a fraternal order within the Catholic Church. Unlike other religious orders, bound to a specific mission or location, the Jesuits traveled wherever they were needed.

“The world is our monastery,” said Fr. Timothy Clancy, S.J., philosophy professor at GU.

The Jesuits number at about 16,000 worldwide and take 10-12 years to be ordained but then undergo another decade of formation. Their lengthy training is essential for them to be sent to remote cultural or physical places, not to bring God there but to share where God already is.

“Think of the world as black and white,” said Fr. Bryan Pham, S.J., the GU School of Law chaplain and  professor. “But there are also those gray areas, which are very uncomfortable for people. Jesuits are trained to go to those gray areas, but that’s where we get into trouble because sometimes the black says we’re not black enough, the white thinks we’re not white enough. We go to that gray area where it becomes controversial.”

Fr. Joseph Cataldo, S.J. and the Jesuits traveled to the Northwest by invitation from the Native Americans and intended to build a school for Native American children. To Pham, this invitation is very sacred and the primary mission of the Northwest Jesuits, especially as GU instead educated white settlers.

“Gonzaga is one element within the larger work, […] the overarching invitation of the Jesuits to come out to the Northwest to work with the natives that from day one happened and continues to happen to this day,” Pham said. “And the Jesuits in the Northwest can never forget the fact that we were out here by invitation. We are the visitors. We are the foreigners. We are here at the request, and this is not our land. Gonzaga is part of that.”

While not initially part of the Jesuits’ mission, education became essential, and Jesuits founded schools and universities across the nation. Clancy likes to think of the Jesuits at GU as leaven in the dough or salt in the stew, steeped in the Jesuit mission and filling in where needed.

“Gonzaga’s mission is to educate people, but to educate them in a way that forms character and gets them hopefully to approach [their future work] as a religious calling, rather than simply as a paycheck,” Clancy said. “To help people find something that they find meaningful. Hopefully you’re assessing all your abilities and asking, ‘How can I help people? How can I help build the kingdom of God?’”

Currently, there are about 30 Jesuits in the Spokane community, and eight work at GU. All these Jesuits go where they are needed in the community, doing spiritual direction, education, parish work, visiting hospitals and supporting vulnerable populations.

“Our mission keeps getting re-articulated so that it’s updated to the world within which we live, which is a characteristic of judgment of Jesuit spirituality,” said Fr. Tom Lamanna, S.J., pastor at St. Aloysius Parish, which sits next to College Hall. “It’s a Christian spirituality that is aimed at being in dialogue with society.”  

St. Aloysius focuses on social justice and charity and raises awareness around these issues, often with GU. About 200 GU students attend one of the four Masses St. Al’s offers on the weekends, and many students receive their Baptism or Confirmation there.

Pham, Clancy and Lamanna were each drawn to the Jesuits after feeling inspired by the authentic living and passion of other Jesuits they witnessed, at GU and from around the world.

Each engages with the gray area in the way they are most suited: Pham through the Indian Law General Practice Clinic and responsible investments (changing problematic companies from the inside), Clancy through teaching the intersection of religion and technology and Lamanna through his parish engagement with the Spokane community.   

“It’s never about converting people to become Catholic or Christian. It’s about converting them in order for them to recognize their own sense of goodness,” Pham said. “But in order to do that, we have to learn how to speak the language of the people. And not everyone speaks Christian, not everyone speaks the Vatican and not everyone speaks Catholicism. Jesuits train as engineers, at mathematics, business, because those are the languages of secular society […] in order to be with people wherever they’re at.”

The Jesuits encourage students to engage in conversation with them and not be afraid to ask questions or challenge their own beliefs, because that is where growth occurs.

“We’re probably not that visible because there aren’t that many of us on this campus,” Lamanna said. “We’re not always wearing our black shirts with the white collar. But I’d say, if you’re a student, try to meet some Jesuits that are working in the university. Some are teaching or working in Mission and Ministry or helping out here and there. They like to talk, so don’t be shy and start to ask questions.”

Caitlin Relvas is a staff writer.

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