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O’Keefe Named New CIS Director

Heights Editor

Published: Monday, January 28, 2013

Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 00:01

O'Keefe Named New CIS Director

Chrissy Suchy // For The Heights


At the beginning of the semester, Rev. Joseph O’Keefe, S.J. acquired a second “hat,” so to speak, and a second office. After settling into his new satellite home in Rahner House on College Road, he now counts himself among the number of faculty members who “wear two hats” at Boston College. His first—that of a faculty member—he has had for over 20 years as a professor and, later, dean of the Lynch School of Education. His second, that of the interim director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, he donned just a few weeks ago.

He is replacing Rev. Michael Boughton, S.J., who is now in charge of Jesuits in Formation on the East Coast. The directorship of the 17-year-old Center was left vacant for a semester before University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. invited O’Keefe to take on the role.

O’Keefe considers the new position a place where he can exercise skills and explore interests he has been gathering for most of his life.

“There’s a lot in my background, both in terms of theology and spirituality, and also how institutions function,” he said. “I know how to run an operation, and in terms of my own Jesuit formation—my studies over the years, my theology studies, directing retreats, teaching—that whole dimension of my life has always been there.”

His goal while director is to reach out to all facets of the BC community and help individuals piece together how the Ignatian identity fits into their own.

“I want to talk to as many constituents within the University as possible,” he said. “So, what do students think would be helpful? What do faculty think would be helpful? What about administrators?”

He also hopes to draw ideas from institutions outside of BC, such as other Jesuit universities, both international and in the United States.

Ideally, he wants the center to address the spiritual needs of not just undergraduates and faculty but staff, alumni, and graduate students as well. When focusing on students, he plans to be careful not to create programs that compete with other organizations.

He posed the question, “How does [the center] fit with Campus Ministry? And enhance it, rather than operate as though Campus Ministry doesn’t exist? That’s where it helps to talk to people, so I’m going to ask the folks at Campus Ministry: what isn’t being done that could be done for students, or how can we work together to enhance some of these programs?”

O’Keefe believes that undergraduates, through the core and general educational emphasis on the liberal arts and broadening perspectives, receive more routine exposure to the ideas behind an Ignatian mentality than do the other groups with which he is concerned.

For example, he hopes to help faculty members, particularly young faculty, learn to integrate their scholastic passion with their broader identity.

“Every professor thinks that her or his research is the most important thing, and it’s set up that way because you just spend years focusing on your thing,” he said. “So I guess one of the questions is, how do you link that passion for your scholarship with the greater issue of how do you make sense of your life? How do you balance your life?”

In addition to enabling greater access to Ignatian ideals for faculty and students individually, O’Keefe hopes that greater awareness of the Jesuit tradition on the part of these groups will result in more fruitful mentoring relationships between faculty and students.

“I think, in my experience as both a professor and a dean, one of the great needs on this campus is to enhance the kind of advisement that happens,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Here are the prerequisites you need for that course,’ but more substantively, how do faculty mentor students? With the whole Jesuit and Ignatian tradition of spiritual direction, of mentoring, I think there’s something to be learned about the relationship between faculty and students.”

He also plans to reach out to the graduate students more than the Center has in past years and hopes to help them, like faculty members, fit their intellectual passion into the broader context of their lives.

“The choice they’ve made for their professional lives, how do they fit that into who they are?” he asked. “We pay a lot of attention to undergrads here, as we should, but maybe the center could help pay a little more attention to the graduate students.”

One key resource O’Keefe hopes to tap into is the School of Theology and Ministry, which only became part of BC four years ago. He is attracted by the idea that just across the street there are 70 Jesuits, very in tune with the idea of Ignatian identity, who are in many cases young or international, or both.

“They bring to Ignatian identity a very interesting multicultural context that didn’t exist in a flesh and blood kind of way [when the center was started],” he said.

O’Keefe hopes to communicate to the BC community that the word “Ignatian” reaches further than the word “Catholic” or even the word “Jesuit,” and that people from all different religious backgrounds can find truth in Ignatian principles. The first speaker hosted by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality under O’Keefe’s direction will be the Vice President for Student Affairs from Loyola University New Orleans M.L. “Cissy” Petty. O’Keefe has asked her to speak on student affairs in the Ignatian context.

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