The Reachout

The Reachout

Jesuits have long had a presence in Latin America, founding their first university in the Americas, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Colombia in 1623. More than 350 years later, in 1985, the 30 Jesuit colleges and universities in Latin America formed their own association called AUSJAL (Asociación de Universidades confiadas a la Compañía de Jesús en América Latina). Within five years the association was ratified and its by-laws created.

Beginning in 1990, representatives from AUSJAL schools in Mexico, El Salvador, and Brazil attended AJCU-CITM meetings in the United States. Raymundo Cantú of Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA) in Mexico City was one of these representatives, and in 1993 he extended an invitation to the AJCU-CITM members to host the meeting at UIA. After discussions over more than a year, the CITM members decided to convene the 1995 meeting in Mexico. However, this was not an easy decision.

During the annual conference in April 1994 at John Carroll University, the CITM had expressed concerns about meeting in Mexico. Three months previously, more than 3,000 people initiated a rebellion in Chiapas which drew international attention to the plight of indigenous peoples in Mexico’s second-poorest state. The uprising began on January 1, 1994, which was timed to coincide with the taking effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The CITM members agreed to wait until after the August 1994 federal elections to make their final decision.

Another problem to solve was the matter of the invitation itself. By summer of 1994, Raymundo Cantú had left UIA to work at another institution, and there was also a new rector of UIA, Carlos Vigil Ávalos, SJ, who was unfamiliar with AJCU-CITM. However, at a meeting of the AJCU and AUSJAL presidents, John J. Piderit, SJ, president of Loyola University Chicago, assured Fr. Ávalos of the merit of the group. Shortly thereafter in September 1994, the AJCU-CITM accepted an official invitation from the rector of Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City to have the annual meeting there.

As any conference chair knows, every meeting requires many months of preparation, and the 1995 meeting had its own unique challenges. One difficult undertaking included securing simultaneous translation services for all the sessions. And, in December 1994, the Mexican peso suddenly underwent a major devaluation. This caused the currency conversion between the dollar and the peso to fluctuate wildly on a daily basis, and it prevented the conference chairs from accurately estimating costs of the meeting. Ultimately the accommodations cost less than anticipated, and it enabled the group to use otherwise expensive translation services for the meeting.

In April 1995, representatives from 26 Jesuit universities in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, and even Korea met at Universidad Iberoamericana for three and a half days. The meeting made history for several reasons: 1) the AUSJAL representatives voted to form their own conference of information technology directors; 2) this was the first joint meeting of an AJCU and AUSJAL conference outside of the university presidents; 3) the first group photograph at an annual meeting was taken here; and 4) the CITM celebrated its tenth meeting.

Among the notable events of the conference, the attendees reviewed the statements from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus which concluded in Rome only weeks before the joint meeting in Mexico, especially the call for more collaboration between professionals and specialists among the different Jesuit schools in support of the Ignatian vision of education. They particularly focused on Article #10 from the statement on Jesuits and University Life.

In the end, the representatives from the AJCU and AUSJAL schools realized they faced similar issues, and the meeting was a success. It provided a foundation for the 2003 meeting at ITESO in Guadalajara, and that subsequent gathering offered even more substance and a larger number of attendees.