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The Ignatian dimension of Clongowes life

Frank Clarke: the Ignatian dimension of Clongowes lifeRecently appointed Director of Ethos in Clongowes Wood College, Frank Clarke poses some interesting questions and outlines some new programmes which will further emphasise the role of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit identity in the college community.


Who are the Jesuits? Who was Ignatius? Why do over 20,000 people in the world dedicate their lives to Christ by living the vocation of a Jesuit? Questions that may seem difficult enough to discuss here, but questions for consideration nevertheless? I’d be interested on your take of what you think “Ethos” is and where it fits in with Clongowes Wood College and its Ignatian identity.

This new role at Clongowes and indeed in the Province, of having a member of the College Leadership team directed towards maintaining and further emphasising the College’s Jesuit identity, is a bold and courageous statement. The priorities set by the Headmaster, the Board of Management and the Society of Jesus have heightened the emphasis on Clongowes being explicitly an educational community that continues to strive to form, in partnership with families, young men of “conscience, competence, compassion & courage.” Often these four “Cs”are counter-cultural to the perceived view of today’s young men who have completed their Leaving Certificates at 18 or 19 years of age.

Let’s go back to Ignatius and his fabulously rich spirituality that invites people into relationship with Jesus through the experience of every day – “God in all things.” We are very fortunate to have so many Jesuits here at Clongowes who model each day through their own humanity, a devotion to following Jesus. We are also gifted by all of the staff that minister to and mould the minds of our young men.

And what of the young men, the students, who not only attend but live in their school as community. One phrase I heard many times during my first few weeks from the boys but also from the staff, was “…here in Clongowes.” At first I thought it a grammatical error, it should have been, “… here at Clongowes:”, but it has become very clear to me that it is deliberate – (whether consciously or un-consciously) the boys and staff have a sense of being in a dynamic community of life, not a destination or just a physical location.

So what is Ethos? To me so far, it’s what makes us different, unique and true to the Ignatian identity. Ignatius was counter cultural and indeed witnessed that God was and continues to be found in all things.

In my initial time in Clongowes I am building relationships with stakeholders of the College – students, staff, parents, Jesuits, Old Clongownians and members of the Clongowes Board of Management. With our prime focus on the educaton of our students I am coming to experience all different types of activities that engage life in Clongowes.

Fr Leonard, when providing a sound byte on my role, used the phrase: “leading Clongowes looking outwards”. As such I am engaged in formulating an Ethos plan to be proposed for Board consultation and conversation to increase the activities and experiences open to all stakeholders of the College. Part of this has involved visiting other Jesuits schools overseas to experience and discuss programs and ideas which distinctly make their High Schools Jesuit. I have recently returned from investigating cultural experiences in Slovakia and Poland for Humanities students. In December I travelled to Lesotho and South Africa to discuss the possibilities of Immersion experiences for students, staff and in the future parents and alumni as well. India looms as a possibility for early next year. Fr Michael Shiel SJ accompanied other educators from the Province to Eastern Cape of South Africa to discuss involvement for post Leaving Certificate stdents from all Jesuit Secondary schools in programs of assistance and awareness. These programs are tied into the priorities of advocacy of the Society internationally.

But what about at home I may hear you ask? On top of the significant programs of spirituality enacted in growth already present, I am focussed especially on the local area. Discussions regarding students gaining Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualifications are in action. This will hopefully lead to students being involved locally with assisting new migrants to Ireland (especially young people) in learning the English language. Poetry students attended a talk with Belvedere College students from Lidy Nacpil, a Filipino lady who is a very significant figure in debt campaigning throughout the world. From this further workshops will be conducted here in Clongowes through Debt and Development Coalition in Ireland. Discussions are progressing with several Jesuit and other advocacies where students can be actively, regularly and age-appropriately, involved in making a difference for the better in the world in which we live.

The valuing of all peoples as equals is very important. Crucial to the daily experience of students is the staff, especially the teaching staff. As such, working with and further educating staff about the richness in Ignatian spirituality will be formalised. Through shared ownership of Ignatian identity, Clongowes will further grow as a fine Ignatian school. In line with this, further parental opportunities will be presented and offered for parents to know more about the modus operandi of the Spirituality at the heart of the school. All of this is tied into the Spiritual Exercises of Inigo, and increasing our students, staff and parents awareness of being “Men and Women with and for others”.

At times I am overwhelmed by possibilities available but on the whole I am inspired by the energy of those in community in Clongowes to move to action and not stay at contemplation. What will my next article contain, I wonder? Where will the Spirit take us as a community towards making differences in our world?

God only knows… just as he knows each of us and calls us by name into personal relationship with Jesus, and what Jesus taught us to do through what he did.