Letter from the President

Letter from the President

Dear Friends,

On February 1st, it was my honor to open the exhibition The Holy Name: Art of the Gesu, Bernini and his Age, currently on display in our Bellarmine Hall Galleries through May 19. The focal point is the bust of St. Robert Bellarmine — the patron saint of our University — by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 -1680), the leading sculptor of his age. In addition the exhibition is anchored by four other pieces from the Church of the Gesù in Rome, the mother church of the Society of Jesus. They are joined by over forty paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints related to St. Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits.

To encounter these works is to appreciate the innovative spirit of the early Jesuits as they proclaimed the truth as they understood it. They engaged the imaginations of those who came before them through the most powerful media they had available — sculpture, architecture, and painting. Visitors to our gallery partake in something truly “once in a lifetime” as this collection has never been together before, and will — in all likelihood — never be together again.

At its core, the exhibition is not only breathtaking but also a poignant reminder that every age is unique, with its own language of expression, and every age requires new ways to convey what is true so that it can be grasped and appreciated.

So how do we convey our message today? Who is the audience, and what are the best tools available to us as we strive to exemplify the modern Jesuit and Catholic University?

From the opening luncheon to celebrate the Gesù exhibition, I departed for Washington D.C. to attend the bi-annual meeting of the presidents of the Association of Jesuit and Catholic Universities, as well as the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Much of our discussion was inspired by the language that Pope Francis has introduced into the conversation, and how we — as educators — should best embrace this vocabulary in the context of our mission.

First, the Pope has stressed the pre-eminence of dialogue in many of his writings: “Do not be afraid to set out on that ‘exodus’ which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others,” he said in an address in Washington in 2015. What could be more essential to the mission of a university than an unflinching commitment to a free exchange of ideas? We are a global community now and openness to dialogue — and patience — is more critical than it has ever been.

Second, and closely related to a commitment to dialogue, is what Pope Francis calls the “culture of encounter” — which for Fairfield, I think, means going out to where we are needed. We will always be a traditional liberal arts university, but for the first time in human history, there are now more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 5. We must “encounter” men and women of all ages, with programs that are relevant to their needs, flexible and accessible.

Finally, Pope Francis has stressed the distinctly Jesuit “art of accompaniment” as central to the work of the Church. For our purposes as educators, it is a reminder that care of the whole person — cura personalis — must inform everything that we do. We must accompany our students in their journey of becoming, with close attention to their needs and gifts so that they are free to realize their fullest potential.

To help ensure that these thoughts are always before us, and that our mission priorities are coordinated, I am pleased to announce that Rev. Gerry Blaszczak, S.J., has agreed to serve as our Vice President for Mission and Identity effective July 1st of this year. In this role, Fr. Gerry will have oversight and responsibility for a group of programs including the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, where he is currently director, and Campus Ministry.

We are fortunate to have Fr. Gerry joining our leadership team, and are blessed to be members of a learning community where open dialogue, the culture of encounter, and the art of accompaniment are already integral to our identity as a Jesuit and Catholic University.

With very best wishes and utmost gratitude,

Mark R. Nemec, PhD