During the remarkable 2020–2021 academic year, as the USF community adapted to the rapidly changing and unfamiliar environment, it also returned to its roots and undertook the task of creating a new mission statement. Organized and led by the University Council for Jesuit Mission, the Council was trained in communal discernment and learned the history of USF’s mission statements over time. Members of the Council then facilitated multiple discernment sessions across USF throughout the 2020 fall semester. During these gatherings, all who participated were invited to reflect and comment on where we found consolation and where we found desolation in our current articulation of mission.
The Council held another round of discernment sessions in spring 2021, this time asking participants to comment on a draft of a new mission statement that was created by Christopher Brooks, professor of computer science and engineering; Evelyn Rodriguez, associate professor of sociology; and Monica Doblado, program manager for the Honors College. Asked by Kimberly Rae Connor, faculty chair for Mission Integration, to reflect on their experience of transforming pages of comments into a coherent and representative mission statement, each insisted that they were not the “writers” of the mission statement, but its “scribes,” with the responsibility to accurately reflect in language the voices of the community.
For the entire community and for these scribes in particular, the effort to discern a new mission statement became a formation process. Here each scribe reflects on stages of that formation using Howard Gray, SJ’s' sequence for “finding God in all things”: Attention, Reverence, and Devotion.
First, bring focus to your life by taking the time to listen to others and see what lies before you.
Bring yourself to a self-possession before reality. Then give your attention (maybe attentiveness is a better word) to what is really there. Then reverence what you see before you.
Evelyn: I was the last to say “yes” and was on the fence, but I couldn’t say “no” because this was such an important task. The request got my attention! I felt like I was accepting a vocational call. I had been inspired by all the training the Mission Council received on communal discernment, and I recognized this task as an opportunity to be deliberate and intentional in not just producing a document but engaging and embodying a process that could be a model for our communal life and decision-making going forward.
Chris: I was like, “Wait, what do you want me to do?” But I’m glad I said yes, because this has been a transformative experience that has connected me with other opportunities that got my attention and that I have benefited from, like when I learned about Ignatian spirituality through the Ignatian Colleagues program. I found such richness in these encounters, and I wanted to share that experience with others and bring them into the conversation around these concepts. Being a scribe was a great chance to do that.
Monica: This opportunity felt like the perfect extension of questions I’ve been paying attention to and asking since I was an undergraduate student at USF, also later as an employee. As a graduate student in the Catholic Education Leadership program, my identities came together when I wrote a thesis on the USF mission statement. With this task I could bring to life all I was unable to accomplish before and to convey that knowledge and experience to bear on our current efforts.
Evelyn: I was so inspired listening to my colleagues, delighted by the diversity of voices and impressed by their insights. I felt confirmation of what I already felt but also was energized by the surprises along the way. When I came to appreciate the historical context, I realized we were active participants in not just a task but a USF tradition—we are the phoenixes in our emblem! But not just us scribes. We were the ones who were asked to channel all the voices we heard and to represent them in a collective expression of mission.
Chris: While this responsibility was hard, it was also inspirational and connected me to a Gestalt feeling of who we are at USF. My encounters went beyond the surface and asked all of us to go deeper, even to heal in some areas, and to bring our whole selves to the job. Listening to my colleagues and brainstorming with my fellow scribes has been heartwarming and uplifting and expanded my notion of who we are as a USF community here and in the city and the world.
Monica: This experience recharged me after my earlier discouraging effort to understand USF’s mission statement. With this collective effort, I got back what I didn’t get the first time; I saw what true engagement looks like. I also became aware of the many ways we can widen the “all” of us that our mission statement encompasses. On a personal level, I developed my listening ear and learned to be as fully present as possible, an effort I am trying to extend to all aspects of my life.
Evelyn: This has been an act of love every step of the way. I feel like I’ve been part of something special that will continue to shape my life in untold ways. I know what is true now and also what will endure. We faced our challenges and tensions but also know that we can be better versions of ourselves. This process was a nudge to do just that. As we worked collectively to craft a mission statement, I realized that we weren’t searching for a grammar in our language, but a spirit. I hope that the mission statement that we helped create will be something all of us who claim a USF identity can carry in our pockets to pull out and remind us of who we are, what we are invested in, and all we are devoted to serving.
Chris: During the process, I kept going back to the phrase we were using to describe USF when I first got here: educating hearts and minds for justice. I felt like that is what we were part of—educating our hearts and minds so that we could responsibly give back in language all that means. When we started this process we were in dark times locally, nationally, and globally. We all felt overwhelmed by the moment and by this task and all that it uncovered. This process gave us all a chance to redeem our times, to set ourselves against the dark forces, and to recapture the hope and change we want to be in the world.
Monica: I’ve realized that the process we started and participated in doesn’t end when we finally come out with a mission statement we can all accept. More ideas and refinements will continue to emerge and the kind of discernment we’ve been practicing as part of this process will be a lifelong skill we will continue to apply to decision making at USF and in our personal lives. We are in this for the long haul. We are addressing the present reality in our statement of principles, but we also aspire to put them into practice.