Jesuit Commons graduates in Kekuma, Kenya [SOURCE: Angela Wells — Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa]

Jesuit Commons graduates in Kekuma, Kenya [SOURCE: Angela Wells — Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa]

BY PEDRO WALPOLE S.JJuly 8, 2015

Over 200 leaders from Jesuit colleges and universities across the global are gathering in Melbourne, Australia, this week for a conference entitled, “Expanding the Jesuit Higher Education Network: Collaborations for Social Justice.”  ISN has invited a number of attendees to offer reflections on the sessions and discussions taking place during the gathering.

Fr. Walpole offers reflections on a panel presentation entitled “Transforming Thinking…Transform the World – Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins,” which included the following presenters:

  • Peter Balleis, S.J., International Director, Jesuit Refugee Service
  • John Fitzgibbons, S.J., President, Regis University (United States)
  • Mary McFarland, Ph.D., International Director, Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins and Professor, Gonzaga University (United States)

Looking at a page of paper one student said to Mary McFarland “the margins are where we begin,” where students begin to write. She added, “The margins are for us where we bring education.”

Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins is an effort to bring education through distance learning to refugees in many of the war torn regions of the world. Fr. Peter Balleis read a long list of world refugee camps. In Arab lands as well as in tin sheds and mud huts in Africa, education is happening and the importance of entrepreneurship is celebrated. Education provides life in community and hope in the future.

Fr. John Fitzgibbons spoke movingly of the impact of war across the globe on youth today. As president of Regis University in Denver, Colorado, he embraces the toughest challenges in the world through leadership in the Jesuit Commons project.

Too often people ask, “Why educate refugees? They can’t get jobs anyway.” Listening to responses from students quickly silences this type of complaint. “We seek education to fight ignorance,” said one of the students.

Four cornerstones anchor the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins project: Strategic Partnerships, Ignatian Experience, Highest Quality with Leveraged Costs, and Global Thinking. There were many examples of how universities are involved.

The challenges remain large: how to grow the program to be able to serve 12,000 students by 2018 and how to find faculty qualified to teach in such areas as conflict and peacemaking, philosophy and science – and to do it in a way that connects with their worlds.

Those challenges have been put before those in the meeting here – as has an invitation to provide financial help to this project so that the education can continue to be provided to the refugee students free of charge. The costs have to be seen as a very desirable and necessary investment in combatting idleness in the camps and helping whole communities of poor and marginalized people become aware of what is happening in the world and how to work for a transformed future. This goes to the heart of Ignatian pedagogy with its focus on conversion.

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