How the UAPs Open Conversations Across Ministry Areas

For Fr. Ted Penton S.J. The Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Global Society of Jesus are an invitation to collaboration and shared mission. ”With the UAPs, these are the four ways that all Jesuits and all Jesuit Ministries are called to live out their mission. So to me it opens a lot of conversations across ministry areas that have historically been siloed to a significant degree,” Fr. Penton explained. Published in February of 2019, the UAPs are a set of four areas that focus the work of the Jesuits during this decade. Showing the Way to God, Walking with the Excluded, Journeying with Youth, Caring for our Common Home. These Preferences are not strategic goals or objectives but rather a horizon that shapes and guides the work of all Jesuits and lay collaborators. Penton continued “The question is how are we doing this in our high schools and in our parishes and in our social ministries. Our social ministries, for example, are walking with the excluded; they are promoting care for our common home; but they are also showing the way to God.”

This June, Fr. Penton will finish his mission as the Secretary of the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology (OJE) and will begin his tertianship, the next phase of his formation as a Jesuit, in Lebanon. Based in Washington, DC, OJE brings the voice of U.S. Jesuit leadership to the federal government, advocating for policies that promote social and ecological justice. Fr. Penton joined OJE in the summer of 2018 and has seen the office through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a crucial period of internal growth. He has played an important role in the office’s response to the Universal Apostolic Preferences and has been a leading voice in the Society of Jesus’ effort to examine the history of Jesuit-led boarding schools for Native students and begin a process of healing.

Among his many responsibilities in his role as Secretary, Fr. Penton has served on the Board of Directors for many Ignatian social justice organizations including the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) and Magis Americas (MA). This diverse portfolio of responsibilities reflects the complex and inspiring breadth of the work being carried out by Jesuits and lay partners throughout the Conference. 

Speaking about the diversity of these organizations, Fr. Penton shared, “Each organization has its own strengths, its own areas where it can bring the most to bear, where it can have the most impact.” At the same time the impact of each organization is amplified by working in coordination with the greater Jesuit network. 

“Sharing with one another, knowing what each other are doing contributes to the overall impact of the whole network,” he explains. “We each have our own distinctive kind of strategic vision of where our particular organization is going. But for each of these organizations, an important part of that is precisely to be working in conjunction with and in partnership with the others.” 

Since their publication in early 2019, the UAPs have not only set a horizon for all Jesuits and lay collaborators to work toward. They also unite us in a common mission and give us a common language to discuss and understand our work. Fr. General Sosa, S.J. underlined this point in a letter to the global Society on the occasion of their publication. “The implementation of the Universal Apostolic Preferences,” the letter explains, “has as a condition the deepening of collaboration among Jesuits and our companions in mission and among the ministries and apostolic units.”  

Fr. Penton elaborated on this point, explaining that the Preferences provide a common language and framework to discuss our shared work, further facilitating this “deepening of collaboration” within the extended Jesuit ecosystem and when this work includes individuals who are less familiar with the Society. “Jesuit jargon can make it more difficult to collaborate with those who are less familiar with us whereas my experience with the UAPs has been that the people very quickly and immediately understand (or at least it makes much easier quicker to understand) our mission when it’s laid out in that way.” 

Working to unite diverse organizations around the Society of Jesus’s core apostolic mission, as reflected in the UAPs,  also means working across sectors, such as parishes, high schools, and ministries. During Fr. Penton’s time as secretary, he made a point of pursuing concrete actions that would foster community amongst Ignatian organizations. For example, he organized Ignatian Advocacy Leader trainings to equip people across the network to conduct meetings with their federal representatives. Fr. Penton made a point to include leaders from various backgrounds–high school principals, university campus ministers, directors of social ministries– so that these organizations could learn to advocate on important justice issues. This effort to unify people from diverse professional and personal backgrounds toward the common goal of policy change has been a central focus of Fr. Penton’s work at OJE and has been aided by the common language provided in the UAPs.

Still, moving from these common ideals to concrete actions is not always a simple task, so it is important to recognize the leadership of OJE and Fr. Penton in particular in this work. “Ted has a keen understanding of the value of relationships in the work toward justice. More than focusing on policies or political moments, he has strengthened the partnership between national level Ignatian organizations,” explained Fr. Sean Michaelson, S.J., Socius and Treasurer of JCCU. “These relationships not only make our advocacy more effective, they nourish our spirits for the long journey toward social transformation. In this way, Ted embodies the message of the Universal Apostolic Preferences, recognizing they’re not objective ideals but actions that call us into a profound relationship with God and one another.”

The Jesuits and the many organizations that support their broad justice initiatives, including JVC, ISN, Magis Americas, and so many more, will continue to be guided and shaped by the UAPs over the next six years or so. We are, in some ways, just beginning to understand how these Preferences are calling us to refocus, re-evaluate or collaborate more effectively and efficiently. However, in the context of OJE, under the guidance of Fr. Penton, the common language provided in these Preferences has already contributed to a clearer understanding and expression of our shared mission.

Fr. Ted Penton’s five years of service to Magis Americas

Ecclesiastes reminds us that “for everything there is a season” and in the Society of Jesus in Canada and the United States, the spring weather also brings us the season of new missions for many Jesuits. This year, the season has come Fr. Ted Penton, S.J. to finish his time with the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology (OJE) and, also, leave his position as Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Magis Americas. 

Ted first joined our Board of Directors in the fall of 2018, shortly after he took on his role as Secretary of OJE. His arrival aligned with the important first steps of Magis Americas and he has closely accompanied and supported the growth of our organization over the last five years. 

In a recent interview, Ted remembered that, “I had no idea until I arrived here that Magis [Americas] existed. [Executive Director] Nate [Radomski] had just been hired as the first staff member of Magis Americas in many years just before I arrived, with the mandate of determining the feasibility of [this project] developing into a larger institution and to determine what are the ways that it could contribute to the mission of the Society of Jesus.” Since that time, our organization has grown substantially and has greatly benefited from the support of Ted and the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. 

In January of 2021, Ted accepted this expanded role and took on the responsibilities of Chairperson. Over the past two and a half years, his guidance has continued to contribute to our growth. “I am really grateful to Ted for his exceptional leadership and consistent support during his tenure on our board,” Executive Director Nate Radomski shared. “His vision and understanding of the importance of our mission and our work have continued to push us forward as a team. His previous experience with other Jesuit NGO’s made him a great asset for our Board, but it was his commitment to helping us grow that made him such a good choice for the position as chairperson.”

During this time, perhaps one of our most important milestones was the acceptance of Magis Americas as the 14th member of the Xavier Network in January of 2022. Ted saw this as an important step for our organization since he first arrived. He explained, “Before coming to the US on this Mission, I was in Toronto serving on the board of the Canadian Jesuits International … a member of the Xavier Network and I was very aware that the U.S. [Jesuits] did not have a member [organization] of that network. The US Jesuits have always been in solidarity and worked with Jesuits throughout the world in a number of very important ways, but in this particular area there was essentially a vacuum in the United States and also tremendous potential.” Whether it is learning from the best practices of the other members of the Xavier Network or participating in trainings offered through the same, our staff continues to benefit from the opportunity to be part of this fantastic network.

Of course, the support and guidance that Ted has offered us over these past five years is representative of so many other Jesuits and lay people who serve on our Board of Directors and support our work in so many ways. Ted made it a point to thank the support that he had received from Fr. Brian Paulson, S.J., President of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States (JCCU), Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, S.J., who preceded him in that role, and Fr. Sean Michaelson, S.J., JCCU Treasurer and Socius. Together, these four Jesuits are examples of the continued support that we receive from the JCCU that makes our work possible. 

At Magis Americas, we want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Fr. Ted Penton, S.J. for his service to and support of Magis Americas over the past five years. We recognize the many hours he has dedicated to our organization, and we are grateful for the sincere and inspiring vision he has shared about the future of Jesuit development initiatives around the globe.  


Education Transforms Lives

“Education is always an act of hope that, from the present, looks to the future,” was one of Pope Francis’ opening messages at the Vatican Youth Symposium on December 16, 2020. With this simple but true statement, he invited us to reflect on the educational crisis that has intensified in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving more than 90% of the world’s children out of school and more than 500 million with no access to distance learning. Education is an essential human right that not only serves as a door to access all other human rights, but also has the potential of leading us to the creation of societies, and in turn a world, in which dignity and justice for all are at the center. Simply put, education is one of the most important tools for social transformation.

We know that all situations of collective danger require immediate responses from authorities and communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has led us into a state of unprecedented crisis in which the most important systems (health, education, economy) for the functionality of our society have suffered. Even though these elements are equally important, the strengthening of educational systems, programs and institutions, supports communities at a deeper level as they build back up. Education provides stability and structure in communities by providing a physical and psychological space for safety, reinforcing the importance of community values, and forcing us to consider the ways in which knowledge and learning can determine the future of generations to come. Access to quality education is the gateway to a reality in which people can be agents of change in their own lives, allowing them to make their own choices and face adversities with dignity and strength.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first crisis our societies have faced. At various levels, we have lived through many crises, from political unrest to human rights violations to economic recensions and natural disasters. What has remained as a vital tool to overcome all of these situations has been education. In Venezuela, a nation that has suffered greatly in the past decade, organizations, like our partners Fe y Alegría, a popular education and social movement, have been working to ensure that every child in the country has access to education. For the past 65 years, this movement has greatly impacted the lives of thousands of Venezuelan students.

Erick Rodríguez, a former student at the very first Fe y Alegría school – Colegio Abraham Reyes, spoke with us about the impact that his education at Fe y Alegría had on his development. Erick was born in Caracas, Venezuela in the 23 de Enero neighborhood. He is one of five children and considered his upbringing to have been typical to his community. Daily activities and duties included going to church, playing baseball, getting water, food and newspapers. Harina de pan, a crucial ingredient for making arepas, was the most important item to have at home.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Venezuela started going through a change of regime, which would be the beginning of decades of social, political and economic turmoil. For Rodríguez, being only 7 years-old, this time came with many fears and uncertainty. Upon enrolling at Colegio Abraham Reyes Fe y Alegría, he recalls the school tried very hard to keep all students safe from violence and crime. “We had teachers who were dedicated to our education and overall our well-being. I am very grateful for that! Fe y Alegría represented my safe place away from home,” Rodríguez said.

Finding a place in which to feel safe and taken care of in the midst of a crisis is essential for the development of any child. When asked what was his greatest learning experience at Fe y Alegría, Rodríguez proudly said, “Fe y Alegría taught me that life is not always easy, but with hard work and perseverance you can move in the right direction.”

These words are powerful and relevant today, more than ever for all individuals. Education and guidance give individuals, like Rodríguez, the opportunity of finding spaces and moments to persevere and work hard.

Rodríguez has no doubt that Fe y Alegría, as an institution, was essential in his pathway to success, providing him with basic principles, values and structure. As he and his family moved to the United States and adapted to a new culture, language and educational system, he kept what he learned at Fe y Alegría close to his heart. He assures us that he is “here today because of the development of the early stages of my life”.

“Education is always an act of hope that, from the present, looks to the future.” Pope Francis’ words ring especially true over the last 12 months, as we once again reaffirm our belief that education is an essential tool for transformation and overcoming crises. Education is a tool for strengthening values such as solidarity, empathy, inclusion, and peace, all of which give us the capacity to overcome times of crisis and enable us to build a more just and equitable world.