Faith in the Journey

Faith in the Journey

A sculpture of St. Ignatius greets students, visitors at new Phoenix campus, a reminder of the Jesuits’ global vision of service and that life is a journey

By Eugene Curtin

There he stands, holding the world aloft, a striking symbol not just of the historical resilience of the largest order of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church but of its founding commitment to serving wherever need arises.

He is Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola, known to history as Ignatius of Loyola, the Catholic saint who in 1540 founded the Society of Jesus, an order whose commitment to Catholicism, to education, to serving the poor throughout the world, and to relieving the oppressed has echoed through the centuries.

This particular statue of the great saint enlivens the new Creighton University Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix. Opened in August, the campus is expected to become a key provider of physicians, nurses, occupational therapists and pharmacists — and eventually physical therapists and physician assistants — throughout the southwestern United States and beyond. With the opening of the Phoenix campus, Creighton is now the largest Catholic health professions educator in the nation — a lofty distinction inspired by the life of St. Ignatius, who humbly ministered to the poor and sick during his spiritual journey.

Before the advent of multimillion-dollar medical facilities and a globe-spanning network of educational institutions, however, there was just Ignatius and his six sandaled, sometimes shoeless followers, when, in 1540, Pope Paul III issued a papal bull establishing what the world would come to know as “the Jesuits.” When Ignatius died on July 31, 1556, his tiny band had grown to more than a thousand.

Among those first members was Jerome Nadal, the son of a Spanish lawyer, who overcame early suspicions about the doctrinal orthodoxy of the new order to become its most prominent early theologian, indeed the man charged by Ignatius with traveling throughout Europe to ensure that the new Jesuits lived according to the rules and constitutions of the Society.

It was Nadal who came to mind when the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, president of Creighton, commissioned the globally themed Phoenix Ignatius. It was Nadal, he says, who captured the Ignatian vision of global reach when he said, “The ultimate and even most preferable of dwellings” for Jesuits “are not … houses but the highways. We identify the Society’s final and ultimate dwelling … with a journey.”

“The whole world,” Nadal said, “becomes our house.”

Recognizing the idea of journey, the six-foot Phoenix Ignatius is in forward motion — in action — even as he contemplates the world. These two qualities, Fr. Hendrickson says, illustrate the Ignatian ideal of the “contemplative in action” — priests and brothers who eschew traditional monasticism in favor of a prayerful, contemplative but active role in the world.

“Nadal is the one who said our house is not the monastery, our house is the highway,” Fr. Hendrickson says. “I think it’s a beautiful image, the Jesuits on the move around the world. He was also the author of that part of the Society’s constitutions that says Jesuits, wherever they may go, are to work hard to adapt to the cultural realities of that place. I think that’s also quite extraordinary.”

If the Phoenix Ignatius is in motion, then he also is in contemplation, gazing at the uplifted globe with a mix of reverence and curiosity. This, too, is part of the essence of the Society of Jesus and is born of the personal experience of St. Ignatius himself. Known sometimes as a warrior saint, St. Ignatius was born into the Spanish nobility and pursued a military career where, inspired by the popular chivalric novels of his day, he earned a reputation for courage and daring. After sustaining grave injuries from a cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona in 1521, and while recovering at the family estate, he underwent a deep spiritual conversion. Looking for something to read, and light fare being unavailable, he turned to Lives of the Saints and to Ludolph of Saxony’s 14th century Life of Christ. In contemplating the sacrificial lives of the saints, Ignatius discovered a deeper, more profound heroism, and so began his spiritual conversion, the 500th anniversary of which the world marks this year.

After completing the academic education that would become central to the Jesuit identity, Ignatius and close associates such as Francis Xavier began laying the foundations of a new religious society, the key characteristic of which would be global evangelization. Xavier, Fr. Hendrickson says, remains the great example of that missionary impulse.

“The very same year the Society was founded, Francis Xavier was already following the Portuguese trade routes around the Horn of Africa, to the edge of India and then to Gao, in India, and from there to Japan where he ended up dying on the shores of China,” Fr. Hendrickson says. “This Society of Jesus, almost immediately after it was approved by the pope, was already spreading its wings and moving abroad.”

This sense of global mission is entrenched deeply at Creighton and embodied on its Omaha campus by statuary of globes urging students to “set the world on fire” with their knowledge and idealism, and of St. Ignatius himself, where, like his Phoenix version, he is represented as a man of learning and of action. This global thrust is reflected in the Creighton Global Initiative, launched by Fr. Hendrickson in 2015, by the new Global Scholars Program, and by the University’s decades-long work meeting the health and social needs of the poor in the Dominican Republic through the Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC).

It also reflects the urging of Pope Francis, history’s first Jesuit pope, that the Earth be understood as the “common home” of all its people and that world leaders join forces to preserve its environmental well-being. The development of global awareness, Fr. Hendrickson says, is a key element of the Jesuit, Catholic education offered by Creighton.

“Creighton has been terrific on the global stage for a number of years,” he says. “We have our international programs and all the regular study-abroad programs in Europe and elsewhere. Also, bringing people from other parts of the world to our campus is an important aspect of what we do.

“The global reach of the Jesuits is expressed not only by our half-century relationship in the Caribbean and myriad other ongoing international partnerships, programs, and projects, but also by the efficacy of research, interests, and engagements the Creighton community continually effects both at home and afar.”

Nor does the Society achieve this solely by the labors of its priests and brothers. In harmony with direction emerging from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) promulgating that ministry is the domain of all the faithful, and not just the ordained, Jesuits have embraced lay involvement. Jesuit leaders, including the late Jesuit Superior General the Most Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, who gave an address on Jesuit-lay collaboration during a 2004 visit to Creighton’s Omaha campus, have outlined a partnership of equality in which all are called to holiness and vocation through their various works. This commitment is manifested in the women and men who partner with Jesuits in mission around the world and at all levels of the academy on Creighton’s campuses.

Almost 500 years have passed since the noble Basque warrior-turned-priest received papal authorization to build his order, and 334 years since the Jesuits, in the person of Eusebio Francisco Kino, SJ, first set foot on the territory of what would become Arizona. But there he stands, in 21st century Phoenix, on a thriving, modern campus, his face modeled after the features of St. Ignatius’s death mask, his shoes reflecting those preserved in Rome, his satchel bearing the sunburst and seal of the Society of Jesus, and his cassock showcasing the seal of Creighton University.

Among the traffic, airplanes and sheer busyness of a world St. Ignatius could not have imagined, his work continues, reflected in the Phoenix statue, the newest tribute to his vision and to his order — St. Ignatius contemplating the world.

“This image of Ignatius embraces Creighton’s Jesuit genius,” Fr. Hendrickson says. “It reflects the Society’s ability to reach beyond boundaries, to embrace and understand foreign cultures and customs, and to carry on the legacy of such Jesuit greats as Francis Xavier, Mateo Ricci, and Roberto de Nobili.”