Dear BropHy Community,
In the Jesuit tradition, we began the school year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit. It was especially meaningful to me this year, with Jesuits West Provincial Sean Carroll, SJ, joining us and missioning me as the 12th president of Brophy during the service. In turn, I had the pleasure of officially appointing Jim Bopp as our principal. Afterward, our faculty and staff gathered for lunch, and I had the opportunity to share my reflections about the importance of our Jesuit mission at this moment in history; I offered three signs of our times that I think will inform our future. I would like to share a portion of those reflections here:
A few years ago, a freshman dad approached me at a Dads’ Club meeting early in the first semester and said, “you all really get boys.” It took me a second before it registered. He was expressing gratitude, after just a few weeks, for the culture and environment here that is particularly conducive to young men. I think he’s right — we do get boys and I don’t think that at any point in our history has this been more important. Recently, much has been written about what has been called the crisis of men. To be clear, this isn’t to deny for one second the significant structural advantages that men have — but two things can be true at the same time. The reality for men is shifting. Men are less likely to succeed in high school, less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to attend college, less likely to graduate from college, and then more likely to drop out of the job search — and men account for a disproportionate share of deaths of despair — suicide and drug overdose.
Considering these realities and this instability, more and more boys are seeking models of manhood in unhealthy places. I think we’re uniquely positioned to meet this moment and provide our students with healthy and holy visions of manhood.
In 2010, then Superior General Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, gave a talk to leaders in higher ed in which he warned against what he called the globalization of superficiality. This is the umbrella under which he lumped all the negative implications of what, at that time, were emerging information and communication technologies — cell phones and social media.
He described the ease with which we could access information, the ability to cut and paste without needing to think critically, write carefully, or develop one’s own opinions. He expressed concern about the superficial nature of the “connectedness” that these technologies allowed — the ability to “friend” or “unfriend” people without ever meeting them. In 2010, Fr. Nicolás was worried about the implications of cutting and pasting, now we have ChatGPT. He warned about the dangers of misinformation; we’re now in an era of post-truth and alternative facts. He expressed concern about the superficial nature of relationships; now we have Snapchat. He warned against the pervasive nature of advertising and the mythology that it creates for young people about what they need and what will make them happy. Today, every advertisement our students watch, or listen to, is designed specifically for them, based on their habits and interests which have been mined since they were babies. And every post they like or every purchase they make only furthers this vicious cycle. Given this landscape, is it any wonder that adolescents are facing a mental health crisis?
As AI will only become more sophisticated and new forms of social media will only become more self-referential and superficial, our Jesuit mission will only become more important. An antidote to the superficial is the transcendent. Once we encounter the God who only wants to love us, we can begin to develop Ignatian indifference — giving value only to things of the world that help us become loving persons. This is why Kairos is such a transformative experience for our students. Particularly because fewer and fewer of our students are affiliated with a faith community, showing our students the way to God must remain our primary goal. This was after all the reason Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus in the first place — to provide a pathway to God. And as far as AI and what that will mean for education? I’m not going to hypothesize about the pedagogy of the future and whether we should be teaching writing in five years, I’ll leave that to the new principal. But I do know that Ignatian discernment will be key. Thoughtfully and prayerfully engaging reality with depth and creativity, making decisions based not on immediate gratification but on which choice will lead us closer to becoming the person of God we were created to be… These skills of discernment are ones that no machine will ever be able to replicate and so they are skills we need to lean into, in our own formation and in the work we do with students.
The third sign of our times that I think underscores the importance of our mission is the polarization that seems to permeate all aspects of our culture. I’m not a sociologist so I won’t pretend to be able to dissect or analyze this, but I do want to offer an observation. Over the last 50 years, our society has experienced a steady decline in people’s trust and confidence in institutions. Institutions of all kinds — government, business, organized labor, public education, and, notably for our context, organized religion — are becoming less popular and less relevant every year.
I think this erosion of our institutions is one of the drivers for the tribalism and hyperpolarization that we experience. Absent healthy institutions that bring otherwise diverse people together, the tribe to which we belong — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — becomes all-encompassing and absolute. This doesn’t leave room for authentic debate on ideas, or any seeking of common understanding based on a presumption of goodwill about the other person.
In a compelling article he recently published in The Atlantic, columnist David Brooks offers this: “people join partisan tribes in search of belonging — but they end up in a lonely mob of isolated belligerents who merely obey the same orthodoxy.”
This era of hyper-partisanship no doubt presents us with significant challenges. During my listening sessions last year, this was far and away the biggest concern voiced by alumni, parents, and board members. But I also think we face a tremendous opportunity and are uniquely positioned to model a different way of being. I know of no other institution in Phoenix that attracts such a diverse array of backgrounds, perspectives, and “tribal memberships” all grounded in a common mission. What will it mean for us to remain firmly and prophetically planted in our Catholic, Jesuit identity while also remaining a vibrant school, a laboratory of ideas where young people are given space and support to wrestle with and engage diverse perspectives?
If we are serious about the work of reconciliation and justice, we need to become bridgebuilders, instruments of reconciliation, rather than become yet another mob of isolated belligerents. And, as Fr. Sosa recently reminded Jesuits, if we are serious about the work of building bridges, we need to be prepared to get stepped on from both directions.
Next year’s freshmen will be the class of 2028 which means they will graduate in our centennial year. As I look to this benchmark moment in the life of our school, it’s exciting to dream about who and what Brophy will be in the second hundred years of our existence. While I don’t yet know what the specifics of this vision will be, I do know that our future must remain deeply rooted in our Jesuit mission, lived out in response to the signs of our times.
I am grateful to all those who support Brophy’s Jesuit mission and l look forward to all that God has in store for us and for this wonderful institution in the years to come.
Read President Ryan’s entire message from Brophy’s Mass of the Holy Spirit luncheon.