Official launch of the Kircher Network

Kircher Network in Innsbruck

The name Athanasius Kircher SJ is back on the spotlight (if it ever left). This man, considered by some as ‘The Last Man Who Knew Everything’, and as the ‘Master of a Hundred Arts’, was a seventeenth century Jesuit polymath expert in areas like religion, geology, medicine, and many more. In addition to all his discoveries that helped us in many fields of knowledge, he has been a key inspiration to launch the Kircher Network, the family of Jesuit institutions of higher education in Europe and the Near East.

What can the Kircher Network do? What is its vision for the intellectual apostolate in Europe and the Near East? These questions were the main focus of the first official General Assembly of the Kircher Network that took place in Innsbruck, from the 7th to the 9th of July 2019.

“The worldwide International Association of Jesuit Universities was officially founded in Bilbao in summer 2018,” explains Frank Turner SJ, Delegate for the Intellectual Apostolate of the Jesuits in Britain. “One year later in Innsbruck was held the first full meeting of the Kircher Network, the European regional body of IAJU. Jesuit universities are always under threat of closing in on their own pressing problems. Yet we have the potential for a global network that will enhance, or even transform, the quality of our service, in a world where the major spiritual and intellectual challenges transcend national borders.  Almost all the provinces of Europe were represented in Innsbruck and we share the enthusiasm to work together more effectively. The British Province was represented by Philip Endean (a member of the steering committee) Nick Austin and myself.”

In the Austrian city, the group of rectors and deans of the institutions that form the Kircher Network, and who are members of the General Assembly, met together for two full days to put their hearts, minds, and souls to the task of answering the two aforementioned questions. Fr Franck Janin SJ, president of the JCEP, and Fr Philip Geister SJ, president of the Kircher Network, both emphasised the importance for “the mission [to be] at the heart of our project and give it is full meaning”.

From there, the group then moved to the Universal Apostolic Preferences. Fr John Dardis SJ, a key figure in the process of their approval by Pope Francis, said, referring to Jerónimo Nadal SJ, “If the world is our home, our home is in a critical state.” He challenged participants: “There is a dominant narrative of division, which is our narrative of reconciliation?” This powerful talk was followed by a similar motivational speech by Fr Michael Garanzini SJ who spoke of the recent developments at the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) and its working groups.

The two presentations served as the kick-off for a personal reflection, followed by some group work, concluded by a plenary to discuss the different ideas that came out. Throughout these sessions, the specific concepts that gained more support were:

  • Exchanging Staff and Students. To do this in a specific way. Strategic partnerships (bilateral or trilateral).
  • Cooperate in seeking joint EU funding for concrete projects
  • Idea of discerning university and what this means
  • Ignatian Pedagogy in Europe and the Near East
  • Theology in Europe and the Near East
  • Intellectual work as a service of liberation

During the meeting, the participants had the opportunity to hear a great talk from Prof Dr Katherine Dormandy, expert on the topic of trust. This came at the right moment since most of the subjects that the members of the Kircher Network were discussing, required trust as a necessary mean for their well-functioning. She said: “Trust involves reliance: putting yourself in someone’s hands. But it involves more than this. It also involves a relationship of care.”

The general assembly was also a good moment to see familiar faces and to meet the new people who will be helping the network move forward. Among these, Susana Ditrolio Rivero will be starting her new role as Executive Secretary in September, after working for more than 15 years in the homologue network of the Kircher network in Latin America, AUSJAL.

Finally, the Higher Education for Social Transformation Programme (HEST) received a lot of attention. It was presented by its coordinator, Prof Dr José Carlos Romero. This programme, launched two years ago, was a crucial element for developing this Kircher Network. The idea is to have several experts, working in the same field, gathering in research clusters and developing a common advocacy strategy to help address a current social issue. The areas in which they have gathered are: ecology and environmental challenges, poverty and ethics, Christian-Muslim relations, dialogue science and religion, Ignatian studies, anthropology, and refugees and migration. These are areas that Fr Athanasius Kircher SJ would surely be delighted to know that the Society of Jesus is involved in.

“We need to work together, we need a new vision, and the Kircher Network is a network of academics who are fueled by the oxygen of hope to work together for a more sustainable, a more just, a more human world: that’s pretty exciting,” commented Nicholas Austin SJ, Master of Campion Hall in Oxford.

Philip Endean SJ, Director of the second cycle at Centre Sèvres in Paris, said: “This was a constructive and congenial meeting in beautiful surroundings. It's a challenge to get this Kircher Network started, given how very different our institutions are. But we are making progress.”

This article was sourced from the Jesuits in Europe website.