When Fairfield University was founded in 1942, there were 11 Jesuits on the faculty and administration to provide the foundation and inspiration for what the University was destined to become.
Today, 12 members of the Society of Jesus who live in the Fairfield Jesuit community work directly with the University to shape the spiritual and academic culture on campus. Among these men are one new and two returning faces who are recent additions to the community.
Fresh to the University is Rev. Michael Tunney, S.J., who arrived in June 2016 after 22 years serving Canisius College. There, he
helped found the college’s Visual and Performing Arts program, and eventually applied himself as its director of Mission and Identity.
While his primary role at Fairfield is serving as the rector for the University’s campus priests, as of the spring 2017 semester he is a member of the faculty as well. He believes his multiple responsibilities connect and benefit each other. “I hope the care I offer [the Jesuits] makes them happier, more joyful and more energetic to go out and do their work so students who benefit from their efforts can take all of their learning and put it to the service of others.” As he did at Canisius, Fr. Tunney teaches at Fairfield in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Meanwhile, two returning Jesuits, Rev. Gerald Blaszczak, S.J., and Rev. Thomas Fitzpatrick, S.J., strengthen the work of those Fairfield Jesuits who choose to focus on the community’s spiritual formation. Fr. Blaszczak initially worked at Fairfield mainly as the University’s vice president for Mission and Identity as well as University chaplain (a title Rev. Charles Allen, S.J., now holds), and during that tenure was committed to promoting the diversity of religious beliefs on campus. He has rejoined the University as director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality after a period as the secretary for the service of faith at the Society of Jesus’ general headquarters in Rome, one of many leadership roles he has held at Jesuit provinces and universities in the United States.
“I was thrilled to be able to come back and pick up this work,” he said of the opportunity to return.
As for his work now, Fr. Blaszczak’s mission with the Center is to help students, faculty and staff find God in the world around them through meditation and guidance with spiritual directors, including Rev. Robert Braunreuther, S.J., and Rev. Dennis Donoghue, S.J.
During the fall 2016 semester, 26 students from different faiths and academic disciplines participated individually in an abbreviated version of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with the Center. Looking ahead, Fr. Blaszczak hopes to welcome more participants to an opportunity for self-discovery and spiritual connection. “I hope by digging deeper to learn about the self, that [visitors to the Center] can discover what they share with those around them,” he said.
Fr. Fitzpatrick helps him in that mission. Having first taught at the University in the 1960s, he now returns as another of the Center’s spiritual directors focused on working with Fairfield’s faculty and staff. “What I do is a commitment for people with busy lives,” he explained, “and it’s a process in which their faith comes right into the spotlight. They engage with that, and at some point can say with conviction, ‘This is what I know about my life with God.’ Knowing that helps other elements of life fall into place.”
When Fr. Fitzpatrick received the opportunity to return to Fairfield after decades leading the development of religious education in Jordan and Israel, he said, “All I wanted to do was talk about God.” Now that he can, he said he finds everything he has done before “converging with this new mission. I’ve never felt more integrated in my life.”
Beside these recent additions, other Jesuits working on campus include Brother Jonathan Stott, S.J., Rev. Douglas Peduti, S.J. and Rev. Francis Hannafey, S.J. who serve primarily as faculty across multiple disciplines. Fr. Stott is an assistant professor in the physics department while Fr. Peduti teaches philosophy. Fr. Hannafey is an associate professor of religious studies.
Others of the University Jesuits serve both students’ minds and spirits. Rev. Mark Scalese, S.J., is a member of the faculty in Fairfield’s Film, Television and Media Arts program, yet has also become, in recent years, director of the University’s Office of Campus Ministry. Mr. Douglas Ray, S.J., also serves dual roles, both as a member of Campus Ministry with Fr. Scalese, and as a faculty member in the Fairfield University Dolan School of Business. Rev. Michael Doody, S.J., is the director of Restorative Mentoring, working with students who would benefit from additional attention and encouragement. ●F