One of the most important contributions that St. Ignatius of Loyola gave to the Church was his Spiritual Exercises. This collection of prayers, meditations, and contemplations based on his personal experience and in particular those months he spent like a hermit in the cave of Manresa just outside of Barcelona, have throughout the years empowered men and women to live an ordered life and be drawn ever closer to the person of Jesus Christ. The solider saint tells us that, “for as strolling, walking and running are bodily exercises, so every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all the disordered tendencies, and, after it is rid, to seek and find the Divine Will as to the management of one’s life for the salvation of the soul, is called a Spiritual Exercise.”
Of all the exercises in his spiritual arsenal, Ignatius considered none more important and useful than the Examen. Not intended to be something that takes much time, this momentary pause in a person’s busy schedule gives the opportunity to recognize the presence of God and evaluate the immediate past, in order to better plan for the future. So keen was Ignatius on this moment of prayer that he insisted to his Jesuits, that while one can have an excuse for not making it to mass, there is no excuse for missing the examen. Whether in the car on your way to work or home, sitting in the office between meetings, or taking a breather during lunch, a person can follow three basic steps: recognize they are in the presence of God; evaluate the happenings of the day, the people they were with, and the actions taken or failed to be taken; and thank God for the presence of His grace.
Therefore, in keeping with the spirit of our founder, it is appropriate to examine the year that has just passed and see how it holds up to the light of the strategic plan that Belen Jesuit proposed as the roadmap for its future.
Strengthening our Catholic-Jesuit Identity: This is the first pillar of the strategic plan. It made the top spot because it is the one area where Belen Jesuit most distinguishes itself from all other schools. Other than being one of a small handful of Catholic private schools in Miami, it is the only one that is Jesuit. This is why Belen has an obligation to strengthen its identity. In addition, with all the challenges that Belen’s young men experience on a daily basis, emphasizing clarity of its identity is critical. The 2017-2018 academic year saw the advancement of the initiative for the construction of a new chapel. Architectural plans are set, a builder has been chosen, and members of the community are chomping at the bit to get it off the ground. In addition, the campus ministry department has been revamped and strengthened, a new Marian Sodality (Esto Vir) has been founded, ties with the Agrupación Católica Universitaria (ACU) have been strengthened, and prayer breakfast opportunities for Belen parents have been established.
Academic Excellence: Traditionally, Belen Jesuit is recognized as one of the premier private educational institutions in South Florida. In August 2018, Niche published its rankings of the best Catholic high schools in the state of Florida and Belen Jesuit ranked second. This ranking should not garner a pat on the back, but a question: why was it not first? This is what motivates Belen Jesuit to work hard on taking things to the next level. In the 2017-2018 academic year, the position of Dean of Faculty was created and a nationwide search was held to assure that the best candidate would be chosen. Belen also developed a professional development plan, not only for faculty, but for staff as well. A committee has already been established to reevaluate curriculum, a technology audit was done to measure the impact of technology in the classroom, and stricter guidelines have been developed for the hiring, evaluation, and firing of faculty and staff. In addition, Belen Jesuit was awarded a grant from the Goizueta Foundation to launch a S.T.E.A.M. program.
Forming Well-Rounded Men: Inspired by the ever-present desire for the “magis,” the more, Belen Jesuit understands that a student’s formation entails more than simply academics. There are many components that contribute to the making of a man. Throughout the 2017-2018 academic year, various initiatives helped promote opportunities that would enhance
a student’s Belen experience. For example, in order to enrich the school’s learning environment, Belen decided to reach out to sectors of the Miami community that do not typically see it as an academic option. Belen Jesuit began a relationship with Breakthrough Miami, an organization that works closely with motivated, yet under-resourced youth, in order to expose those students to Belen and have them consider attending. The Overseas Study Program (OSP) enriched its options for travel in the summer by adding places that Belen had never visited before. Our Mandarin Program was extended to the Middle School so that students could spend more time learning the language and culture of the East. Lastly, plans are in place to enhance the athletic program with the construction of the aquatic center, new batting cages, and a new athletic center.
Enhancing our Brotherhood: Belen Jesuit recognizes that its greatest resource are the alumni. With over 7,000 proud graduates around the world, the Alumni Association stands at the forefront of being able to give back to its alma mater with its time and treasure. Last academic year, the Association, in conjunction with the President and Office of Advancement, visited alumni in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC. These visits gave Belen an opportunity to inform its alumni how much it has progressed in recent years, create a stronger alumni network, and remind alumni how important it is to give back to their alma mater. In addition, the Association has worked tirelessly to launch a mentoring program where older alumni are paired with younger alumni. Helping promulgate these relationships and introducing alumni to each other in places far away from Miami will not only benefit Belen Jesuit in the long run, but will also have a more immediate benefit for the alumni themselves.
Examining Belen’s progress over the last academic year is not an exercise in self-glorification, but an opportunity to demonstrate how committed it is to the strategic vision. These pillars are not simply words on paper, but have led to actions that have responded to a challenge that will help elevate Belen to greater heights. But there is much more to be done. Belen is only getting started. Already, the wheels have been turning in new and innovative directions that will help fulfill Belen’s plans for a brighter more educationally robust future. Thank you for your prayers and contributions to Belen’s mission. What Belen has done and what Belen will continue to do has much to do with those who are committed to Jesuit education in Miami.