WHEELING, W.Va., July 19, 2017 -- A group of seven students and one employee from Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) joined more than 500 alumni, students and friends of Jesuit colleges and universities from 30 countries in Cleveland June 28th through July 2nd for the first North American Congress of the World Union of Jesuit Alumni (WUJA).
PHOTO CAPTION: At Right: WJU senior Brett Dipuma had the opportunity to asked a question during Jesuit Superior General, Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J. live streamed presentation at the World Union of Jesuit Alumni gathering in Cleveland.
WUJA is a global gathering for Jesuit alumni to engage in collaboration and share in their mutual connections to the Society of Jesus and Jesuit education. Held every four years, this marks the first time a group from Wheeling Jesuit attended the gathering. Members of the WJU contingent said the WUJA was a great learning experience.
Mary Meiman '16, Wheeling Jesuit admissions representative, said, “The WUJA Congress was a wonderful experience, because I met Jesuit alumni from all over the world. I gained a greater understanding of the reach and impact the Jesuits have around the world.”
Meiman said like others, she got the chance to participate in break out sessions and voice insights and hopes to help shape the future of Jesuit education. One of the insights that came from a break out session, she said, was “Our hope is that collaboration can flourish while each individual maintains self-awareness. If the Jesuit network can engage in a type of 'year of discernment,' that can create a theme with which to unify the network.”
Along with Meiman, the WJU students participating were: Jennifer Barry, Brett Dipuma, Lauren Dickerson, Stephen Gretchen, Faith Harris, Justin Ryder and Kristen Shimko.
Jerry Schroer '86, who was part of the WUJA planning team, also attended the North American Congress as well. The Cleveland area resident provided resources to allow the WJU group to attend.
“I am glad to have been a part of planning this year's WUJA. For me, it was a wonderful experience being around so many people who are passionate about Jesuit education,” Schroer said. “I am glad that I could help fund the group from my alma mater. I heard many positive comments about the Wheeling Jesuit group - the students were so engaged and they represented the university well,” Schroer said.
During the live-streamed keynote address by Jesuit Superior General, Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., Dipuma was one of only a few attendees to ask the Father General a question.
“It was pretty great to be chosen to ask the Father General a question,” said Dipuma. “I asked him how we can not only discern the right thing to do in a time where there is so much information - some real some false - but also how to act when all the crises in the world are so large. In typical Jesuit fashion, he said he does not have a concrete way of discerning. The Father General said we should all pray - prayer is the best way to God's will. Discernment is not what is best for the world, but what God wants us to do at this time, and the only way to find that is through prayer.”
Shimko, who along with Meimen, was featured in an Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities story, found the experience eye-opening. “For me the best part of WUJA was the connections and networks we were able to build with other people from around the world. The conference itself was mainly composed of Jesuit Schools Alumni which gave us a large, diverse group of individuals to network with. Having a group like this come together and combine ideas to better Jesuit institutions around the world was extremely eye-opening for me.”
The conference, Shimko said, was a great learning experience.
“All-in-all, I think the biggest take-away for me from WUJA is that we, as an institution, are a tiny part of a huge picture. One person at the conference compared the conference as a mouse on an elephant's trunk, and that is one of the most accurate metaphors I've ever heard. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. The Jesuit community is so much bigger than we realize. If we continue to share knowledge with one another the greater whole will benefit so much.”
Jennifer Barry, a junior and a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), found the presentation about the Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) very interesting. The JWL is a collaborative global initiative that provides certificate and diploma programs to people who live in refugee camps and where higher education is not accessible.
“I was amazed by this initiative because one of my dreams is to enable people from difficult backgrounds the opportunity access to higher education. In a country like the DRC, not everyone has access to higher education. I am blessed to attend college in the United States, however I think about those who cannot afford it. This program was my encouragement to pursue my dream to spread higher education in my country,” Barry said.
In addition to the Father General's keynote, other highlights included live-streamed addresses from noted best-selling author Rev. James Martin, S.J.; and Georgetown University scholar, Dr. Katherine Marshall. In-person keynote addresses were delivered by Rev. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries; Chris Lowney, best-selling author; and Rev. Peter Balleis, S.J., executive president of Jesuit Worldwide Learning.
Presentations and discussions were led by faculty from many U.S. Jesuit institutions on a range of topics including collaboration among international Jesuit business schools, social entrepreneurship, developing alumni networks on the frontiers, best practices in mission and identity, sport and spirituality, Ignatian pedagogy and the future of Jesuit higher education.
WUJA was established in Bilbao, Spain on July 31, 1956. The next WUJA congress will be held in Barcelona, Spain in 2021.