By Doris Yu
August 26, 2015 — In one of the first gatherings of its kind, female administrators from seven different Jesuit colleges met in Cincinnati to discuss Ignatian leadership earlier this month. The attendees, who represented schools in the Midwest and Canada, convened at Xavier University for the inaugural Women’s Ignatian Leadership Salon.
Held from Aug. 11-12, the conference aimed to advance leadership capacities through an emphasis on Ignatian reflection, sharing and experience-focused workshops.
Facilitators Dr. Debra K. Mooney, Xavier’s chief mission officer and assistant to the president for mission and identity, and Dr. Sandy Richtermeyer, associate dean of Xavier’s Williams College of Business, named the event an "Ignatian salon" because of its introspective focus on women’s professional experiences in the vein of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, a departure from other professional workshops that solely concentrate on skills like networking or public speaking.
Barbara Howard, Xavier University’s first female board chair, gave the keynote speech on “Spiritual Leadership.”
“It was Ignatian because we really emphasized people’s reflection on their personal experience and conscious understanding of choices they make and desires they have in their career and vocation,” said Mooney. “It makes it different from traditional professional development opportunities, which are oftentimes skills-based, such as ‘how to do something better and more effectively.’”
A few basic rules were observed throughout the conference: all participants were to be considered equal and were invited to offer their thoughts in a safe place, reminiscent of early 18th-century French salons that aimed to “please or educate.” Popular during the Enlightenment, the salons were held to "increase the knowledge of participants through conversation."
All of the participants of the Women’s Ignatian Leadership Salon at Xavier University.
Participating universities included Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska); John Carroll University (Cleveland); Loyola University Chicago; Marquette University (Milwaukee); University of Detroit Mercy; and Campion College at the University of Regina (Regina, Saskatchewan), the only Jesuit school in Canada offering degrees at the undergraduate level. Leadership and faculty in attendance included women who served in roles such as director of campus ministry, vice president of mission and ministry, provost, department chair or dean, and many professors and directors of campus initiatives.
The conference included speeches, discussions on women’s experiences in the workplace and other professional development activities. Featured topics were strengths, impression management, stereotype threats, virtuous leadership and institutional culture. The women not only talked about their strengths as leaders and how they actively developed their talents, but also discussed times that a negative gender stereotype might have impacted them at work and how they overcame that negative expectation.
According to feedback collected, “people appreciated the optimistic, positive tone of the salon,” Mooney said. “It was a place to talk about things that may have been painful or challenging, but also a place to talk about joys — they’re all a part of life.”
A keynote address titled “Spiritual Leadership” was given by Xavier University’s first female board chair, Barbara Howard, an alumna of the school. Howard was one of the first women to graduate from Xavier once it began fully admitting women in 1969. Another alumna, Holly Schapker, who painted the series “Adsum: Contemporary Paintings on Ignatian Spirituality,” spoke about what she learned about herself while painting the life of St. Ignatius.
The salon ended with an Ignatian examen: a reflection of their past year and contemplation of the next year.
The conference was held as part of the schools’ ongoing commitment to faculty development and increased collaboration among all Jesuit universities, at the encouragement of the provincials of the Wisconsin and Chicago-Detroit Provinces.
Mooney saw the salon as a way to contribute to the Society of Jesus and its support of women by developing the leadership of Jesuit universities in a unique way. As written in General Congregation 34, Decree 14, the Society hoped “to regard … solidarity with women as integral to our mission.”
“I appreciated being with women from Jesuit universities where the language and mission of the Society is known. It’s been good to be associated with a larger network,” wrote one participant after the conference.
For more information, visit the Xavier University website or contact Debra Mooney.