The Jesuits of the western United States are uniting their ministries behind social justice causes. The collective faith and power of Jesuit colleges, schools, parishes and other ministries in 10 states could have a significant impact on immigrant rights, racial equity and voting access, Jesuit leaders say.

“They want to flex their Jesuit muscle for justice,” said Annie Fox, a community organizer the Jesuits hired to guide the process.

Last year, Jesuit Father Scott Santarosa, provincial superior of Jesuits West, appointed Fox as assistant for social ministry organizing. Fox most recently was lead organizer of a large interfaith organization in Los Angeles County. She ran grassroots campaigns focused on housing, homelessness, immigration and mass incarceration, and she trained hundreds of faith leaders on how to advocate for more supportive and affordable housing.

Now, Fox is advising Father Santarosa and other province leaders on regional, national and international social justice causes.

“We are blessed in our province to have upwards of 80 ministries, and, together, they are a powerful force to raise awareness of the critical justice issues we face today,” said Father Santarosa. He added that Fox is taking the province’s advocacy efforts “to a new level.”

The endeavor on social action comes from the top of the Jesuits. Father Arturo Sosa, superior general of the order worldwide, called for the focus.

St. Ignatius Parish in Southeast Portland is one of the Jesuit ministries getting on board. The parish has launched a large education series that through prayer will explore racial equity and challenge white privilege. The sessions don’t end with knowledge alone, but seek action.

Ed Kaiel, a St. Ignatius parishioner, welcomes the new agenda.

“Catholics are rich in charity but struggle with justice,” said Kaiel. “Justice work takes collaboration to work on what’s upstream of the problem.”

Fox has spoken at many parish, schools and ministries.

“The Jesuits already do so much great work,” she said. “But work for justice and structural change requires us to act together. We want to help regions of the province become more powerful and be prophetic voices in their communities.”

Over centuries, Jesuits have honed the art of discernment. The Western province gathered 200 ministry leaders and prayed to find a focus. Racial equity emerged as the top priority for now. That includes efforts on behalf of migrants, a cause that Pope Francis, also a Jesuit, has promoted.

Already, Jesuit ministries in Washington state helped create a policy that offered state coronavirus aid to workers and taxpayers who are undocumented — a population left out in many federal assistance sectors.

“St. Ignatius often spoke of getting free to love,” said Fox, explaining summer and fall formation sessions that confront white privilege. “We are all beloved of God.”

Jesuit High School last month held an online discussion with Black alumni.

“The Ignatian philosophy is about a faith that does justice,” said Kate Stinson, senior director of programs for Portland-based Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest. “This gets at who we are, what motivates us.”

JVC Northwest places young people in social ministry jobs, helps them live in Christian community and encourages them to act for a better world. The JVC Encorps program forms communities of older volunteers.

Stinson said that Jesuit ministries in the Portland area are forming links with local justice organizers and offering support. One task in the weeks ahead will be voter registration, Stinson said.

edl@catholicsentinel.org