By Therese Fink Meyerhoff
Father Greg Waldrop, SJ, is a man of many talents … and a corresponding number of responsibilities. He is a priest, college professor and province consultor. His most pressing role at the moment is that of rector for the Jesuit Community of New Orleans. This newly constituted community includes all the Jesuits in southeastern Louisiana, 26 in all. As rector, Fr. Waldrop is responsible for their overall well-being.
“My most important job is cura personalis,” he says, using the Latin term Jesuits favor for “care of the whole person.”
“As rector I also have a limited role in cura apostolica (care of the apostolate) for all of our works, but I don’t run them, thank goodness!”
The Jesuit institutions he helps to care for include Jesuit High School, Loyola University, Immaculate Conception Parish and Holy Name of Jesus Parish in New Orleans, as well as Manresa House of Retreats in Convent.
“I mainly concern myself with questions about the apostolates’ Catholic and Jesuit identity,” he says. “I work with the directors of the works, urging collaboration and asking questions about the health and needs of the institution. I want to be as helpful as possible in ensuring the health and vigor of our apostolates.”
The New Orleans Jesuit Community is exploring a new approach to Jesuit mission within a city or region in the USA Central and Southern Province. Recognizing that the number of Jesuits is declining, while the need for Ignatian works is not, the province is calling on its members and partners to adjust their mindset for mission.
“Gone are the days when a Jesuit working at one apostolate in the city could assume he had no obligation to any of the others or when the apostolates didn’t communicate much between themselves,” Fr. Waldrop said.
“We want to break down those kinds of barriers,” while continuing to respect each work’s institutional autonomy. Jesuits In the community are still missioned to a certain job in a particular institution but now can also expect to help out in others, likely finding themselves serving in more than one apostolate. For instance, their primary assignment might be in the high school, but they may also be called upon to preside at Masses at the two Jesuit parishes in the city.
It is a new way of caring for the apostolates so that they remain viable, vigorous and Jesuit.
“I am excited about this new way of thinking about our mission,” Fr. Waldrop says. “It’s more collaborative and more generous across apostolic boundaries, and it makes us all collectively responsible for the Society’s efforts in this region.”
This vision for mission requires creativity, collaboration and collective discernment.
“We have to discern our mission together and what it means practically,” he says. “Service of the Faith and the promotion of justice remain our priorities; that’s the contemporary mission of the Society in a nutshell. To carry it out, we must, above all, be grounded in Jesus Christ, who gives us courage and strength and creativity.”
The scope of his rector assignment required Fr. Waldrop to step back from his full-time professorship at Loyola New Orleans, where he taught art history. He continues to serve on committees and as the treasurer/secretary for the university’s board of trustees. He hopes to return to the classroom one day. Teaching, he says, is the ministry for which he has most prepared (some 18 years of post-graduate studies).
“I engage students in the analysis of visual material and its impact on us,” he says, noting that most people concentrate on text and language when it comes to learning and understanding the world around them, often overlooking the importance of images.
“Knowing about images – how to examine one, take it apart and bring forward its underlying meaning – is really important. It is visual rhetoric. We privilege words, but people use images to make you do things. It’s important to understand that.”
Father Waldrop acknowledges that teaching is getting more challenging each year as he grows farther from the age of his students. “It’s so different now. There’s been a tremendous rise in anxiety and depression among students. And they have many competing priorities, like jobs and family responsibilities. School becomes a source of additional anxiety.”
Students of color now make up the majority of Loyola New Orleans’ student body, and more than a third of them are first-generation college students. Father Waldrop points to both statistics with some pride.
“We are absolutely being faithful to the Jesuit mission here, and to the third Universal Apostolic Preference, to accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future,” he says. “Education should be a source of hope for our students. When I teach, I do feel like I am engaged in my mission.”
Father Waldrop’s third responsibility is province consultor, an assignment that may be unfamiliar to non-Jesuits. He is one of four advisors to Provincial Tom Greene. The small group meets monthly to discuss the sometimes-difficult issues and situations that Fr. Greene is dealing with in the province. The consultors serve as sounding boards and offer advice, but, ultimately, decisions lie with the provincial.
“I appreciate how much time we take in prayer to decide what’s best for the individual or work,” he says. “We do well by our people. Some of these issues can be difficult, but it can also be very uplifting, for instance when one of our men overcomes a challenge.”
He notes that the consultors spend more time on final vow deliberations than on any other topic. “Even when there’s no doubt that a Jesuit is worthy to be called to final vows, we still talk about him and review his work, how he’s grown spiritually and in his vocation,” Fr. Waldrop says. “This guardianship of the Society of Jesus is hardwired into us.”
With all these responsibilities calling on his many talents, Fr. Waldrop says his favorite ministry is preaching and presiding at liturgies. “Priest” remains his ultimate calling.