Georgetown Participates in Catholic Higher Education Conference “Lighting the Way Forward”

By Jamie Kralovec, Associate Director for Mission Integration at the School of Continuing Studies (SCS)

The beautiful University of San Diego played host in January 2024 to the conference, “Lighting the Way Forward: The Future of Catholic Higher Education in a Changing World.” Georgetown actively participated in the conference and helped contribute to the convention’s core theme of equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

In early February 2024, Pope Francis publicly addressed the purpose of Catholic higher education by using the metaphor of an interconnected system of parts: head, hands, and heart. A distinctly Catholic vision for a Catholic university must attend to each of these dynamics. First, says Pope Francis, the head must be cultivated in educational endeavors that reveal the “intrinsic harmony of faith and reason.” Second, such an education should stir the heart by “promoting dialogue and a culture of encounter” that leads graduates to develop genuine relationships that explore life’s greatest questions. And finally, Catholic higher education should move participants to discern actions in the world with their hands, committing to “go out to the peripheries and meet and serve Christ in our neighbor.” 

The way that Catholic universities take up this task reflects the unique context of each institution. Despite this variance across the world, all Catholic colleges and universities share in the same universal mission that Pope Francis touched upon in his address. In January, a team of colleagues representing different parts of Georgetown traveled to the University of San Diego to engage in conversation with peers from other Catholic schools about renewing this universal mission at a time of great social change. The conference, “Lighting the Way Forward: The Future of Catholic Higher Education in a Changing World,” was organized around four themes that reflect the joys and hopes as well as the griefs and anxieties of the contemporary moment. These themes were Care for our Common Home; Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; Liberal Arts across the Curriculum; and the Emerging Challenges, Opportunities, and Needs of Generation Z. 

During three sunny January days, conference participants from around the country listened to plenary presentations from leading education and ministry leaders about the opportunities and challenges facing the landscape of Catholic higher education. Cardinal Robert W. McElroy from San Diego, for example, reflected on the ongoing project of realizing Pope Francis’ vision for environmental sustainability laid out in the encyclical document Laudato Si. What role should Catholic colleges and universities, through curriculum, community engagement, procurement, and campus planning, play in this shared universal work? In another plenary, Dr. Hosffman Ospino, Associate Professor of Hispanic Ministry and Religious Education at Boston College, challenged the audience to consider how schools across the U.S. network need to embrace demographic shifts in the Church and larger society in order to become places of true belonging and inclusion for the diverse populations of Catholic colleges and universities. 

More than attending sessions, Georgetown colleagues actively participated in the programming and advanced common understanding of the conference’s core themes. Amy Uelmen, Director for Mission & Ministry and Special Advisor to the Dean at Georgetown Law, presented “Fostering a Culture of Encounter in the Gen Z Classroom.” Dr. Uelmen shared insights from her scholarship and teaching about healing polarization in classroom settings through pedagogical strategies that invite regular individual reflection about the deeper meaning and purpose of professional practice. Tony Mazurkiewicz, Chaplain for Athletics, and Jamie Kralovec, Associate Director for Mission Integration at the School of Continuing Studies (SCS), shared about an anti-racism retreat, “Setting Captives Free: Racism and God’s Liberating Grace.” This retreat, co-facilitated by Holy Trinity Catholic parish and Georgetown University, is modeled on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and inspires participants to more deeply know the love of God as they work to advance racial justice. 

The Georgetown group returned to campus renewed by the conference’s invitations to ponder the larger purpose of Catholic higher education. As a Jesuit institution, deeply steeped in the way of proceeding of Ignatian spirituality, the opportunity to develop relationships across the larger network of Catholic schools is welcomed and energizing. According to Tony Mazurkiewicz, the impact of the San Diego conference will be lasting: “I felt inspired and energized by the opportunity to join colleagues from Georgetown University and throughout the country in meaningful dialogue and reflection about the myriad of ways our Catholic moral and spiritual imaginary can create a more just and equitable world.”

To learn more about Setting Captives Free and its relationship to Ignatian spirituality, visit the SCS blog post by Jamie Kralovec, “Toward a Meaningful Diversity: Ignatian Resources for Realizing an Inclusive Community.”