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.