In 2019, the Society of Jesus presented the fruits of a two-year discernment responding to the needs of the Jesuits and the Church. The results are the four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP): Showing the Way to God, Walking with the Excluded, Journeying with Youth, and Caring for Our Common Home. Over the next 10 years, the Society and its partners in mission are committed to living out these preferences. They are “points of reference for the whole Society, that inspire its discernment in common and its apostolic planning at all levels of our life-mission. At the same time they are a guide for restructuring the Society’s governance and for creating working networks, both among ourselves and with others, in this same ministry of reconciliation.”1 As a Catholic, queer-identifying woman discovering her place in the Church, I wondered how the richness and complexity of women’s experiences would give urgency to these preferences. How might our voices inform how Jesuits and lay partners address these topics? If the Society vows to commit itself to deepening its apostolic mission, it must listen to the witness of women and intentionally include them in the process.
Showing the Way to God calls us to foster one’s relationship with God and guide discernment in their role of God’s plan. Our mission is to “accompany people as they discern complex choices” and promote the Spiritual Exercises.2 This preference immediately sparks my thoughts concerning women’s ordination. What are women to do when they partake in the Spiritual Exercises and find themselves called to the priesthood or a ministry that the Catholic Church rejects? Julie Dowd, former director of University Ministry at the University of San Francisco, critiques the Spiritual Exercises, which can perpetuate patriarchal and clerical injustice.3 She writes, “Is it possible to fully surrender to God if one is not permitted to externally express and live out that full obedience to that divine summons?”4 Can this UAP authentically accompany women and their way to God while the Church denies women a place at the altar? Ivelisse Colón-Nevárez, OFS, gave a powerful testimony sharing how she stayed in the Church even though she could not fully live out her vocation. She said:
If I went away, who could fight for my Church, which still had such a need? Isn’t that what exactly the Roman Curia wanted, that women went somewhere else? In the end, I didn’t fall into that temptation. It is my Church who needed me. I didn’t feel that the right thing should be abandoning it. So the Lord helps me remain always faithful to it, even if I’m a dissident.5
If we live out this preference and women feel the call to ordination, we commit tremendous harm when we, in turn, tell them that their discernment was for naught. Therefore, what if Showing the Way to God is also a mission to advocate for women’s complete and authentic participation in their vocation?
The exclusion of women as ordained ministers leads us to the preference, Walking with the Excluded. Its purpose is to recognize the suffering of those pushed to the margins of society and work to fight against economic and social injustice. Widening the scope of women’s exclusion beyond the Church, I name the harsh reality of poverty. The majority of those living in poverty around the world and within the United States are women. Sexism, racism, and the patriarchal structures within our society hinder opportunities for women to find stable employment, housing, healthcare, and support.6 Once the pandemic hit, women’s unemployment and poverty increased compared to men because of women’s exodus from the workforce.7 US society strongly places the duty of caregiving upon women and as a result, women experienced a greater burden to care for their families and households during the unprecedented time of pandemic. Lifting women out of poverty requires “vital public assistance programs, addressing workplace disparities, ensuring work-family benefits, and expanding access to lifesaving supports.”8 Most importantly, women of color must be prioritized in this effort because they are at a “heightened risk of poverty due to the combined effects of gender and racial discrimination.”9 Does the Society of Jesus contribute to the economic disparities women face? The Jesuits in Britain issued a report examining salaries between their male and female employees. The majority of their employees are women, but the report revealed that on average, men are paid more than women.10 What would be found if a similar report was conducted within the United States or other Jesuit provinces?
Another preference in the Jesuit mission is Journeying with Youth, which calls us to recognize, support, and lift the voices and gifts of young people. Young people today face extreme challenges as they grow up in a time of pandemic, political unrest, large economic disparities, increasing ideals of secularism, and the dire threats of climate change. Their futures are threatened by the havoc previous generations caused. However, they are not silent in their anger or frustration with what is being placed on their shoulders.
WE HEAR THEIR VOICES IN BLACK LIVES MATTER, #METOO, MARCH FOR OUR LIVES, AND THE GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE TO NAME A FEW
They are “moral agents, fully engaged participants in building the common good and transforming unjust social structures.”11 As young people in our country lead efforts in social justice, where do we see them in our Church? How do we “journey with the youth” when there is a continuous increase of young people leaving behind their Catholic identity? One unique group works to bridge the divide between Catholics and secular-identifying persons. Nuns & Nones is a collaboration between Catholic sisters with young people who do not identify with a religion. These Catholic women do not aim to evangelize or convert the Nones. Instead, they recognize that they can journey with young people by focusing on the shared desire for social justice. Journeying with Youth can provide young people a rich connection to God and their spirituality, but how might the voices of youth outside the Church enrich the Jesuit mission? Like the women of Nuns & Nones, might we meet them in their spaces and continue our shared work of justice?
One of the greatest weights youth and future generations must carry is climate change. As a response, the Society of Jesus has the preference Caring for Our Common Home, which calls us to recognize the crisis of climate change and act to care for God’s creation. As previously mentioned, women make up the majority of the world’s population living in poverty. Those in poverty rely on natural resources for food, shelter, employment, and community. Climate change threatens and harms their means of survival. As a result, women “are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men.”12 Their experiences are vital sources of wisdom, expertise, and insight for the path ahead. Women are essential in the work for environmental justice and ecology. The rights of women and environmental justice are “intimately related.”13 African feminist theologian, Dr. Sophia Chirongoma, speaks on what is missing from Pope Francis's efforts in Laudato Si. She states, “The document pays very little attention to the interconnectedness of ecological destruction and the domination and exploitation of women including other sexual minorities in the world due to patriarchal and anthropocentric attitudes toward the universe.”14 We exploit this planet just like we exploit women. Therefore, if Caring for Our Common Home guides us to care for this planet, can it guide us to care for women?
I believe these Universal Apostolic Preferences are essential in the Jesuit mission, but I implore the Society to consider these preferences in light of women’s stories and experiences. Perhaps the recently created commission, the Role and Responsibilities of Women in the Society of Jesus can bring these experiences to the leaders of the Society so women may be fully included in the order’s life and mission. As for us in our daily lives, I invite us to consciously apply these preferences in our actions with women’s experiences in mind.
ELISE DUBRAVEC is a Master of Divinity student at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. She received her B.A. in sociology and religious studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently interning at the Lane Center and is a liturgical leader for FutureChurch, an organization that advocates for women’s leadership and ordination in the Catholic Church. Before her graduate studies, Dubravec was a parish youth minister and catechist in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.
- The Society of Jesus. "What Is a Universal Apostolic Preference."
- "Showing the Way to God," The Society of Jesus.
- Julia A. Dowd, “Another Ignatian History: Including Women in the Story of Jesuit Mission,” Jesuit Higher Education: A Journal: Vol. 8 : No. 2, Article 2 (2019).
- Ibid., 7.
- Ivelisse Colón-Nevárez, "My story..." WomenPriests.org, May 3, 2004.
- Bleiweis, Robin, Diana Boesch, and Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines. "The Basic Facts About Women in Poverty." Center for American Progress. Aug. 3, 2020.
- Ellingrud, Kweilin, and Liz Hilton Segel. "COVID-19 has driven millions of women out of the workforce. Here’s how to help them come back." Fortune. Feb. 13, 2021.
- Robin Bleiweis, et. al. "The Basic Facts about Women and Poverty."
- "Gender Pay Equality Report 2019" Jesuits Annual Review 2019-2020, London: Jesuits in Britain, 2019, 42. Feb. 28, 2019.
- Mary M. Doyle Roche, “Cultivating Resistance: Youth Protest and the Common Good,” Jason King and Julie Hanlon Rubio, eds. Sex, Love, and Families: Catholic Perspectives (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2020):293-303.
- 12. UN WomenWatch, The UN Internet Gateway on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women. "Women, Gender Equality, and Climate Change."
- Sophia Chirongoma, "Gleaning for Gender Justice in Laudato Si’: Envisioning a Radical Eco-Feminist Conversion." Creatures: Radical Ecological Conversion after Laudato Si’.