By Lisa Beckelhimer
Maggie King strolls down to the banks of the Little Miami River. The babble of water rippling over rocks provides a welcome respite from the usual workday sounds. It’s taken awhile, but the associate professor of nursing is finally letting go of the overwhelming busyness of her normal schedule and starting to unwind. She’s in the middle of a three-day retreat at the Milford Spiritual Center, a relaxing and religiously uplifting “gift from the University,” as she calls it. King’s streamside reflection comes after spending the morning with a spiritual mentor, receiving gentle guidance on how to listen to God by listening to herself and the things around her. The retreat is part of a two-year personal development process she and 29 others took part in called Assuring the Future of Mission and Identity at Xavier, or AFMIX. The University created AFMIX in 1999 as a means of accomplishing two tasks: One, to provide a professional development opportunity for employees that allows them to create a mission-focused mentality to their work. And, two, to train lay persons to fulfill some of the mission and identity work traditionally carried out by the Jesuits, whose numbers are dwindling.
Ironically, it wasn’t the Jesuits who initiated the AFMIX concept, but rather some University employees. They were familiar with the stresses being placed on the Jesuits—and that those stresses are only going to increase in the future—so they approached George Traub, S.J., director for Ignatian programs, about creating a program that would allow lay people to help preserve the University’s Jesuit nature.
“What makes AFMIX noteworthy,” says University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., “is that it’s an initiative that emerged from staff, faculty and administrators themselves, so it’s their way of carrying forward the mission and identity of the University.”
The idea is unique among the country’s 28 Jesuit institutions and is exactly what was needed, says Traub. “We constantly need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we empowering lay people so they have what they need to carry on the Jesuit tradition?’ ” he says.
AFMIX was placed under the direction of Ignatian programs, which develops spiritual-related programs. The University spent nearly a year combining the successful aspects of other programs into AFMIX, says Traub, with the result being this two-year series of programs—or a “process”—that is broken down into three components: education, spiritual development and service.
The first year includes reading, prayer, reflection and a series of seminars on Igna-tian spirituality, Jesuit history and Jesuit education. Using the book Finding God in All Things, participants are guided through St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises. The second year includes self-evaluation and weekly seminars on topics such as scripture, ethics, listening skills and group dynamics.
“What you find out is that people respect you for who you are, not what you do,” says participant Pati Haney, administrative secretary in the department of education. “I felt awkward sitting next to people with Ph.D.s, because I thought I might not understand the material the same way they did. But you realize, it doesn’t matter what degrees or work responsibilities you have; we’re all on a level playing field as far as Ignatian programs are concerned.”
As they progress through the AFMIX process, participants begin planning and producing some of the University’s Ignatian programs that have been traditionally handled by the Jesuits.
The first class, which graduated from the process in the spring, now is helping produce Manresa—the new student and employee orientation—departmental colloquia and other programs.
A second AFMIX class began this fall, and, again, not all participants are Catholic.
“At no time have I ever felt uncomfortable being a Protestant at Xavier,” says Philip Glasgo, associate professor of finance. “In fact, I worked on a committee to develop a program for AFMIX with a Jewish person and a Hindu. In AFMIX, you see that a large number of Jesuit principles are embraced by other faiths. The most obvious is finding God in all things.”
Where the participants find God the most is in themselves. It changes you, says Haney. At least it did her. She admits she was a “hard sell” when she was first approached about joining AFMIX. She has five children and a hectic job. Today, though, she says she not only has a better understanding of herself, but also in what she does.
“I believe,” she says, “it’s made me a better mother, better wife, better colleague, better person.”