On September 12th and 13th 2022, school leaders and experts in various fields from our JECSE network as well as several Education Delegates and JECSE Executive team members met in Drongen, Belgium. The meeting served as a formal start of JECSE´s Task Force approach to supporting European Jesuit schools in their mission.

After an introductory session, twenty participants coming from ten different European countries were divided in four different groups (Task Forces) each assigned to focus on a theme considered central to JECSE´s mission: Formation, Mission and Identity, Safeguarding, and Global Citizenship. Here are some highlights from the discussion of each group:

The Formation Task Force focused on exploring new ways to ensure that teachers and workers involved in Jesuits schools are given opportunities to be more deeply formed in the Ignatian tradition. The group agreed on the importance of developing training programs that would offer school directors and teachers a chance to get better acquainted with the core foundations (at least a minimum) of Ignatian pedagogy, spirituality and identity. They also noticed that attention should be given not only to the content of JECSE´s formation activities but also to the mode of delivery of these activities. Building a sense of community among participants, as well as making use of forms of communication that are more appealing to younger participants were some of the points emphasized. In awareness that there are already helpful documents, online platforms (such as Educate Magis), and formation programs being offered by different centers, the Formation Task Force will continue exploring ways to make better use of these resources and to foster opportunities where this kind of formation for our education workers can take place in more international and intercultural settings.

The Mission and Identity Task Force tackled the challenging question of what it means for our Schools to be Catholic and Jesuit in the increasingly secularized and plural contexts of today´s Europe. Members of this group showed concern for finding ways in which the specifically Chrstian, Catholic, and Ignatian values can, in practice, not just in theory, become central to the programs and work of our schools. They wrestled with the question of what in depth Catholic formation might mean for teachers and students in different contexts, facing different challenges. Much attention was devoted to the First Identifier of Jesuit schools, and the group felt the need to challenge our schools to remember that they are not simply called to work for the formation of “men and women for others” but more specifically to help raise “men and women of faith for others”. In an effort to begin exploring practical ways to help schools achieve this, some key questions were raised: Can schools articulate their own concrete vision (or practical qualities) of what a well formed student looks like at the time of graduation? In addition to (the somewhat vague) academic excellence, are we able to actually offer students theological literacy linked to a personal experience of Jesus´attractiveness, as well as the capacity for critical inquiry needed to deepen one’s identity in today’s world?

The Global Citizenship Task Force explored the richness of the call to be more universal, more interconnected, more globally minded. They noticed that there is some need to clarify the understanding we (and  different Jesuit schools in different contexts) have of the term “Global Citizenship”. This identifier of Jesuit schools is deeply related to several key themes that are central to the mission of the Church today, such as ecological conversion, hospitality towards migrants, or faith based justice in general. However, the group recognizes that it may not always be easy for our schools to put in practice extra activities dedicated to this. Still, there is much hope that already existing groups or activities in schools dedicated to themes closely related to Global Citizenship can be a good starting point for further developments.

Through their sharing and discussion, members of the Safeguarding Task Force became more aware that the mission to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse cannot be limited to establishing protocols and having clear safety procedures. They affirm that while these are an essential starting point, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that building a  culture of safety, loving support and concern for all is an essential part of the ongoing mission of each school community as a whole. Safeguarding must be affirmed and seen as something that is right at the heart of our calling to serve Christ. This Task Force plans to explore ways in which we can make more clear the interconnection, but also the differences between pastoral service in general and safeguarding in particular. In future, efforts will be made to help schools find ways to reflect about and put into practice the ideal of becoming communities where everyone is engaged in the creation of a space where each person is protected, loved, and authentically cared for.

The meeting’s agenda was deliberately prepared so as to allow each Task Force to have ample time for reflection, mutual listening and sharing among its members. Having the opportunity to meet in person after a prolonged interruption of face-to-face activities also gave participants the opportunity for deeper bonding and community building. This allowed several of the participants, especially those who have just recently become involved with the work of JECSE, to be introduced to other the more veteran members of the Network in an environment of fellowship and fruitful encounter.