Looking for Kolvenbach

I was not raised in the Catholic faith.  Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that I did not attend a Catholic school of higher learning.  I thus confess to knowing very little about the major tenets that drive education under Catholic guidance.  But in my work with Winds of Peace, I have had occasion to learn a little of the thinking and teachings of Jesuit universities in the U.S. as well as the University of Central America (UCA) in Nicaragua.  I’ve been intrigued by some of what I have encountered.  And while I have not converted to Catholicism, I have been enamored with one of the Jesuit’s outstanding thinkers and educators, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach.  Figuratively speaking, WPF has been searching for him- and application of his words- since its inception.

Now, as for my Catholic-ness, I have spoken to a number of classes at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The classes are  always business, accounting or religion courses, and I am continually impressed with the fact that I am addressing such classes on topics like employee ownership, broad-based equity sharing, organizational participation and open book management.  It suggests to me that there might be significant cross-pollination of ideas, a mixing of the technical with the humanities, a truly serious effort to provide an holistic view of the world even to such seemingly disparate students as religion and business majors.

I haven’t heard Kolvenbach’s name or work mentioned during my brief visits to St. Thomas, but it seems to me that the connectivity among disciplines that I’ve experienced there is absolutely in line with something Kolvenbach wrote years ago, something which recently caught my attention in a major way.  In an address at Santa Clara University in October 2000, this is what Kolvenbach had to say about learning, the world, and our place in it:

“Universities must make it possible for students …to allow the disturbing reality of this world to enter into their lives, so that they learn to feel it, to think critically about it, to respond to its suffering and to commit themselves to it in a constructive fashion. They will have to learn to perceive, think, judge, choose and act in favor of the rights of others, especially of the most disadvantaged.… The measure of Jesuit universities is not what our students do, but who they become and the adult Christian responsibility they will exercise in the future towards their neighbor and their world.”[1]

His immediate audience was university students, but the words apply as well to middle-aged adult learners and senior citizen sages,  as much or even more so today than in 2000.  The message is for all of us.  Allowing ourselves to become personally infected with the discomfort of the disadvantaged is the essence of learning the truth about ourselves and the makeup of our character.  It’s the “point of the trip,” the purpose of this journey that each of us is taking in life.

Kolvenbach’s concept summarizes a significant component of Winds of Peace work.  It’s the reason the Foundation has supported cross-cultural education experiences over the years, why we have been a supporter of The Center for Global Education methodologies, and why we seek to further the Kolvenbach vision through partnership with a U.S. university in creation of a “Synergy Center” in Nicaragua. (Read a full description of the concept from the WPF website homepage, located toward the bottom of the page.)  Partnership with a university seeking to immerse its students, researchers and supporters in real life context is the next stage in the WPF calling to generate transformational and global life experiences.

Kolvenbach understood and encouraged the intimate bridge-building between cultures and classes.  He challenged his Jesuit audiences to take the “risk of infection,” not just to accept difficult realities when confronted with them, but actually to seek them out in order to feel what others feel.  He speaks of risk and commitment and discomfort.   As WPF seeks its synergy partnership, in a very real way it’s looking for Kolvenbach…..



[1] The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice, by Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., Santa Clara University, October 2000.



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