By Doris Yu
July 13, 2017 — “Go forth and set the world on fire." Students
at Jesuit schools hear this over and over, but out in the real world, after
graduation, it can be easy to feel like you’re living the Ignatian values alone.
Every four years, the World Union of Jesuit Alumni (WUJA) brings together
Jesuit friends and alumni for an international Congress demonstrating that no
matter where you go, you’re never too far from “men and women for others.”
This year’s Congress, held for the first time ever in North
America at John Carroll University in Cleveland, gathered around 500 people
representing Jesuit schools, parishes and ministries from June 28-July 2. The
official theme was “Uniting Our Jesuit Frontiers.”
John Carroll University in Cleveland, the host of WUJA 2017.
Participants hailed from 27 countries including Albania,
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Burundi, China, Columbia, Ecuador, France,
Hungary, India, Lithuania, Mexico, Rwanda and Venezuela.
WUJA was founded in 1956 in Bilbao, Spain, to commemorate
the 400th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius Loyola, the
founder of the Society of Jesus. The organization gathers Jesuit alumni to
build international networks and to discern how to promote peace and justice in
a global and sustainable world.
The WUJA delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo invited
participants to share in their independence day celebration on June 30.
Past meetings have been held in Rome (1967); Sydney,
Australia (1997); Kolkata, India (2003); Bujumbura, Burundi (2009); and
Medellin, Colombia (2013). The next congress will be held in Barcelona, Spain,
The three-day program featured about 60 speakers and 30
breakout sessions on topics ranging from the arts, business, medical science
and law to spirituality, service and leadership.
A young alumni media panel breakout session. From left: Deanna Howes
(AJCU), Caitlin Huey-Burns (Real Clear Politics), Andrew Rafferty (NBC News)
and Fr. Sam Sawyer, SJ (America Media)
“As graduates and supporters of Jesuit institutions, we are
called to care deeply for the world, especially for those on the frontiers or
margins,” the organization said in a press release. “Attendees will build
international relationships through learning, sharing and celebrating this
Most notably, Jesuit Superior General Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ,
gave a keynote speech and question-and-answer session via video feed from Rome.
“We are called to an attitude of encountering, getting out of our normal way of
doing things, figuring out how to reach people where they are,” he told
Other keynote speakers were Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, SJ,
president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Fr. Gregory
J. Boyle, SJ, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los
Angeles; Fr. James Martin, SJ, author and editor-at-large of America magazine;
Chris Lowney, current board chair of Catholic Health Initiatives; Katherine
Marshall, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for
Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, director of
Jesuit Worldwide Learning, providing certificate and diploma programs to
Keynote speaker Jesuit Father Greg Boyle,
founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries
A Jesuit ministries fair included booths offering
opportunities to learn more about organizations such as Jesuit Refugee Service,
Loyola Press and the Ignatian Solidarity Network. Daily liturgy services were
held at the Gesu Parish adjacent to campus, as well as nondenominational
meditation sessions and morning prayer.
The delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo handed out flags
to the audience in celebration of the DRC independence day.
Lowney, author of “Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a
450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World,” asked the audience for examples
of good leaders, then turned the question on its head. “There is a problem with
the way we think about leaders. Frequently, when we think of good leaders, we
think of famous people,” Lowney said. “We should be thinking about ordinary
people like you and me.”
After each speaker and breakout session, reflection and
discernment sections in English, Spanish and French were held twice daily to
Reflection and discernment sections allowed WUJA participants to discuss ideas
stemming from breakout sessions.
“WUJA reminds me a lot of the Ignatian Family Teach-In and
how it addresses social justice issues and helps people learn,” said Faith
Harris, a student from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.
Participants enjoyed spending time together at events,
including a dinner and social with local Cleveland food trucks, a night at the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a minor league baseball game and an evening with
the Cleveland BlueWater Chamber Orchestra and Cleveland Chamber Choir.
WUJA participants from Wheeling Jesuit
University meet the chairman of the Council for Renewable Energy in Nigeria.
“Being an undergraduate student, it’s awesome to see that
people who have already graduated still have the same action and enthusiasm
surrounding being Jesuit educated that I do,” said Lauren Dickerson, a student
at Wheeling Jesuit University. “Being such a young age while a lot of these
people are already in their careers and living Jesuit spirituality through
their careers, it’s nice to see how I can do it too.”
Visit wujacongress2017.org for more information. Additional photos are available on Flickr, and videos of livestreamed keynote speeches
are available on the Ignatian Solidarity Network Facebook page.