Service and Justice at Creighton

Maria Teresa Gaston and Ken Reed-Bouley

In the Creighton community, we are invited and challenged to integrate action for justice with contemplation of the goodness of God. Ignatian spirituality (and the charism and commitment of the Society of Jesus) teaches us to strive to see the world with God’s eyes. It enables us to discover where we can make a difference by applying our individual talents and interests to the social realities of our time. As members of a learning community, we are taught to use our intelligence to question and understand the forces causing violence, injustice, and cultural and environmental degradation; to see if and where we are complicit; and to determine how we can join with others in faith to seek freedom, healing, community, and justice.

At the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), we share our vision grounded in Jewish and Christian scriptures, in Catholic social teaching, in the teachings of the U.S. bishops, and in priorities of the worldwide Society of Jesus. 1 At the same time, we welcome and respect individuals from other religious traditions, cultures, and perspectives. We seek to create opportunities for genuine dialogue and to support a common search for meaning and commitment.

The mission of the CCSJ, a department of the division of University Ministry, is rooted in the exhortation from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, “Our Mission and Justice,” that directs members of Jesuit institutions to serve those who suffer, to raise awareness regarding the causes of social injustice, and to organize for social justice.

The CCSJ offers easy-entry opportunities for students, working with local-community partners, to tutor or accompany neighborhood children, refugees, or adults experiencing homelessness every day of the week.

Each August, the Service and Justice Volunteer Fair, held on Creighton’s campus, hosts a number of community organizations, including community development and advocacy groups as well as elderly outreach, environmental, medical, and literacy efforts. This offers community members an opportunity to describe their projects and explain how Creighton volunteers might assist them. The fair exposes students and faculty and administrative staff to our neighbors, especially in areas of Omaha near Creighton, and may spark creative and collaborative projects in classes, clubs, or residence halls. Contact information and requests for volunteer assistance also can be found in a list of service opportunities the CCSJ publishes annually and on the CCSJ web site. A weekly online newsletter sent to subscribers provides a timely communication link that enables community groups to announce events and request assistance.

Since 2000, the CCSJ has been leading “community orientations” for student leaders and occasionally for faculty and administrative staff. These events encourage participants to leave the security of campus life and to view, through the lens of faith and justice, how our neighbors live. These orientations include visits to community groups and dialogue with individuals in North Omaha, South Omaha, and the central-city area just south of campus. The CCSJ also makes available maps and suggestions for self-guided orientations.

Our weeklong service trips offer chances for students to encounter and learn from members of historically marginalized groups—specifically, those experiencing poverty, racism, mental illness, or the effects of injustice. Students who take these trips can better understand why the obstacles to health, education, safety, and equal dignity are so entrenched and difficult to remove. The CCSJ partners with hosts who allow volunteers to see for themselves the inequalities produced by callous economic and political policies. These experiences inspire students to meet the Jesuit challenge to “focus on transforming the cultural values which sustain an unjust and oppressive social order.” 2 Service trip coordinators facilitate a process that includes local-community immersion, reflection, social analysis, and training on how to encourage inquiry and reflection in small groups. Each year since 1983, these trips have grown—in depth, breadth, and number—thanks to the generosity of generations of Creighton student volunteers.

The advocacy and organizing aspects of the CCSJ mission challenge us to work for long-term change in national and international policy on behalf of justice and sustainability. The staff draws inspiration from the efforts of Creighton alumnus Denny Holland, Fr. Markoe, S.J., and members of the Creighton DePorres Club, who, in the 1940s and 1950s, organized successful civil rights actions in Omaha. Partnering with religious and nonpartisan advocacy groups allows Creighton to participate in efforts to eliminate the death penalty in Nebraska, to seek comprehensive immigration reform in the nation, and to declare our desire that all be provided with adequate food and health care. The university is linked to a remarkable network of Jesuit institutions in the United States and around the globe. Growing collaboration among Jesuit networks for social and international justice worldwide makes possible the establishment of priorities for research and common action. 3

Since 1997, hundreds of members of the Ignatian family (students at universities and secondary schools, novitiates, Jesuit volunteers, parishioners, and others) have gathered for the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Columbus, Georgia, in conjunction with the annual vigil and protest organized by School of the Americas Watch at the gates of Ft. Benning. Each November, a delegation from Creighton joins other members of the Ignatian family from around the country to commemorate the lives of six Jesuits and two women helpers who were killed at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador in 1989. Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., rector of the UCA at the time, continues to inspire our mission with his teaching. “There are two aspects to every university,” he said in a 1982 commencement address. “The first and most evident is that it deals with culture, with knowledge, with the use of the intellect. The second, and not so evident, is that it must be concerned with the social reality—precisely because a university is inescapably a social force: it must transform and enlighten the society in which it lives.” 4 The success of the Georgia teach-in led to the formation of the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN), a network of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. In 2007 the ISN began facilitating teach-ins in other areas of the United States so that members of the Ignatian family can further connect through their commitment to justice.

 As people of great privilege attending or working at a Jesuit university, we are called to work for the renewal of the Earth. By our actions, we stretch one another’s imaginations and hearts and inspire one another to learn and practice skills of advocacy, shared leadership, and community building.


1. U.S. Bishops, Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults, “Sons and Daughters of the Light,” 1997. Goal Three: To invite young adults, through healthy relationships, work, and studies, to embrace the mission of Christ to promote the building of the kingdom of God in the world today, thereby bringing about the transformation of society. Objectives: 1. To help young adults form their conscience based on the Gospel and the Church’s moral and social teachings; 2. To provide educational and service opportunities for young adults to practice the gospel values of justice and peace and to care for the less fortunate in the workplace, at home and in the local community; and 3. To invite, train, support, and mentor young adults to be leaders in society and church life.

2. 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, 1995, Decree 4: “Our Mission and Culture,” 28, Guideline 3.

3. Although Creighton University is governed independently by a (mostly) lay board of trustees, it functions as an institution within the Jesuit province and benefits from its leadership, resources, and priorities. The Creighton Center for Service and Justice was created to help the university, particularly students, to know and carry forth the Jesuit justice mission on campus and in the community. Key offices in Rome and Washington, D.C., the General Curia of the Society of Jesus’ Social Justice Secretariat and the Social and International Ministries Office of the Jesuit Conference keep the center informed, facilitate coordination of activities, and communication, including publishing Promotio Iustitiae (published in English, French, Italian, and Spanish and also accessible at, “In All Things” and “SJS Headlines.” In addition, there are some 324 national and international Jesuit Social Centers that conduct social research and lead advocacy and social action efforts with and for the poor. Other important organizations in this sector of the Jesuit apostolate include the Jesuit Network for International Development, the Jesuit Migration Network, the Center of Concern, Jesuit Refugee Services, and Jesuit advocacy groups.

4. Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., Commencement Address at Santa Clara University, June, 1982. Available at:

Union of Minds & Hearts HomeTable of Contents | Creighton University | Creighton's Online Ministries