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Creating a climate of inclusivity

Irish Jesuit Donal Godfrey SJ has just been honoured by the San Francisco University (USF) for his “extraordinary service to the university and the community at large”. Donal is Associate Director for Faculty and Staff Spirituality at the university. He was presented with the ‘Father William J. Dunne Award’, which is the USF’s highest individual staff honor. He is the first Jesuit to receive the award which is named after William J. Dunne SJ, whose tenure as president from 1938 to 1954 was the longest of any president in university’s history. There are many criteria for selection for this honor. It requires that the recipient embody Jesuit principles of education through actions and that they participate in local, national, or international programs that reflect the content of the USF vision, mission, and values statement.

Presenting the award, the university President Paul Fitzgerald SJ (pictured on Donal’s right, to left Michele Centrella, HR) said, “This year’s recipient is the ultimate personification of this award.” He went on to recount some of the accolades which Donal and his work had received: “His answer to any request starts with – Yes.”; “He has started many programs, and has spoken in countless classes and to countless departments about USF’s mission”; “He is always willing to meet with individuals one-on-one”; and “He has gone above-and-beyond to build vibrant programming that has touched the lives of hundreds of faculty and staff, and his work allows others to be who they are, to discover their authentic selves, and sometimes to discover a new or deeper faith”.

Speaking about the award, Donal Godfrey said: “I feel very honored and am so grateful to work in an environment such as the University of San Francisco. We are the second most diverse university in the United States, and our diversity comes in so many ways. I love the opportunity of my ministry, which is to open our Jesuit mission and Ignatian spirituality to people of so many beliefs and faiths including Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, and Atheists. I used to be intimidated by Ignatius, and it is the faculty, staff and students here who have helped me to appreciate and appropriate the gift Ignatius is for our times.”

His job title is Associate Director for Faculty and Staff Spirituality at the university. Beyond this, however, Donal is a pastoral presence for all the faculty and staff. He also works with students and is the only Jesuit on the staff of University Ministry.

During his time at USF he has begun various programs and initiatives. Three years ago he founded the Ignatian Faculty Forum (IFF), modelling it on a program that was successful in Santa Clara University. “Approximately ten people from faculty engage in eight four-hour dialogues over the course of the Fall and Spring semesters,” he explains, “including reading and reflecting in advance on the shared assignment in preparation for each dialogue. The small number maintains an intimate and personal setting, and the program is seen as a serious commitment to both the future of USF’s Jesuit heritage and to their development as a faculty leader”.

The objective of the IFF, Donal adds, is to uncover the elements of a modern Ignatian spirituality that would be true to the ‘lived experiences’ of faculty members fully engaged in their professional careers. This is not an abstract, idealized spirituality, he emphasises, “but one that integrates Ignatian insight with the day-to-day struggles of teaching, scholarship, and university service as actually experienced by faculty. Specifically, we have a forum which provides a small community of trust or discernment in which faculty members share personal and professional joys and struggles as they engage in reflective discernment together”.

With three years of IFF alumni on campus, the university now has a growing community of faculty who are leaders in their field as well as Jesuit values and education. “Participants describe it as a transformative and deeply rewarding journey.”

He also runs a number of retreats tailored to the needs of staff and faculty over the academic year, including what’s known as the 19th annotation where the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius are extended over several months, and the retreatants do weekly prayer practices, readings, and meditations. There is also a silent Ignatian retreat each year for five days. It is open to faculty and staff.

Guest lecturers or retreat givers are also invited on campus Donal organises mini-workshops and talks for various departments. “I find that this way I reach more people, because in a sense one has a captive audience! The programs need people to sign on and show up. This way all kinds of people get something on the Jesuit mission and I always see my job as one of inviting everyone to own the Jesuit mission in a way that makes sense within their own belief structure. I also say that our being Catholic means not that people have to agree with the Catholic church but that they will be respectful of it, and also that they will engage the Catholic intellectual tradition seriously.”

He runs two book clubs each semester for faculty and staff, which often but not always use an Ignatian-themed book. “People of all faiths and none meet over lunch and discuss a few chapters.” For students he gives a seminar-style course called ‘Listen to Your Life’ once a year, seminar style to about 15 students offering them the opportunity to discern their vocation, in the Ignatian tradition. They use career assessment guides and material, and listen to guest speakers who have found how to apply their gifts and talents to the world. He also says mass for students, gives spiritual direction and conducts sacred walks and meditation.

He believes that what he is really doing in his work is giving people a space to be themselves. “And then,” he adds, “in a respectful safe space, gently introduce them into the Jesuit mission and Ignatian spirituality. I sometimes work in collaboration with Human Resources, (HR) because I notice that people will come to something others in the university are sponsoring even if I am the facilitator. For some there is a stereotype that university ministry is only for ‘religious types’ When they know us, they see we are here for all, but the name can put some off.”

Further afield Donal’s work continues to reflects his belief in inclusivity and a faith that serves diverse communities. During the Year of Mercy he gave workshops including one on becoming a welcoming parish for LGBTQ people. He is on the board of trustees of Spring Hill College, the Jesuit university in Mobile, Alabama, and on the advisory council of ORAM, an organisation which specializes in the protection of exceptionally vulnerable refugees, including LGBTI refugees. He is also part of a first response network to help those threatened with deportation with the new and harsh measures being taken by the present US administration, set up in a parish where he says mass regularly.

A review of the University Ministry program some months ago concluded that Donal, in his work, “expresses the Jesuit and Catholic heritage in a compelling and hospitable way”. Commenting on this, Donal says, “My power is more soft than hard. I was the Director of University Ministry for some years, but I discerned with the help of the then-President Steve Privett SJ that this was not my thing. I am energized by working with people alongside them more than being in charge and over them. Of course such ministry is a real gift when it is the right fit for someone.”