A Strengthening Bond
Incoming president of the Universidad Centroamericana sits down for a conversation with Victoria Jones
Jose Alberto Idiáquez, S.J., incoming president of the Universidad Centroamericana Nicaragua (UCA), was on Seattle University's campus last week to participate in a number of events. He delivered the homily at the Celebration of Hope mass held annually to remember the Jesuit priests and lay people who were murdered in El Salvador in 1989-many of whom Fr. Idiáquez knew well. He also gave the annual Joseph Maguire, S.J., lecture, and met with many faculty, staff and students.
Fr. Idiáquez's visit was another key step in strengthening the ties between the two sister Jesuit schools. SU's partnership with UCA got going with the faculty and staff immersion trips that Joe Orlando, assistant vice president for Mission and Ministry, led to Managua for many years. Efforts have been stepped up in recent years to bring the institutions closer together through a series of mutually enriching student and faculty exchanges and other reciprocal scholarly initiatives. SU President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., pictured above with Fr. Idiáquez, is planning to travel to Nicaragua this coming March to formalize the partnership by signing with an agreement with his UCA counterpart.
Victoria Jones, associate provost for global engagement, who is heading up SU's collaborative efforts with the UCA, had a chance to interview Fr. Idiáquez during his time on campus. The following are excerpts from their conversation. (Note: Some portions of Fr. Idiáquez's responses were lightly edited without altering the substance of his remarks.)
Victoria Jones: Can you talk about your personal journey to become a Jesuit?
Fr. Idiáquez: I was born in a Jesuit parish and I made my first communion and was an altar boy in a Jesuit parish, so I would see Jesuits in my house, in my neighborhood. I went to a Jesuit high school. So I have known Jesuits since I was born. I feel familiar with their mission.
Victoria Jones: When you became a Jesuit, you were trained in Central America-what was your formation like?
Fr. Idiáquez: Six countries belong to the Central American Province, so…it has been easy for me to see myself as not being from one country but to be a Jesuit in Central America. Because of the war in El Salvador, we went outside of the province and we went to Mexico to study philosophy, and after, the provincial decided to send us to study in El Salvador (where some of my teachers were martyred in 1989). In my province we have people from the United States and Spain and different countries, so I feel like I live in a globalized country. To be a Jesuit is to be in the world and the heaven is your roof.
Victoria Jones: It sounds like you're one of the Jesuits who has followed so closely in the steps of Ignatius, with traveling and mission and working in so many places-wherever God calls.
Fr. Idiáquez: Exactly. You know, I have been a Jesuit for 30 years and I have only been working six years in Nicaragua. So now I come back and I have to re-adapt my life to my own country.
Victoria Jones: And now you're about to become the president of the UCA.
Fr. Idiáquez: It's been amazing for me and a big surprise because when I left the UCA in 1999 (after my previous time at the university), I never thought that I'd want to go back to be a president. And now I feel comfortable. I have to be obedient even though my vocation is to be with campesinos, to be with peasants. But my provincial has sent me to the UCA and I have to be…happy with this new mission and trying to be close to the poor people and to the marginalized places. I feel a big responsibility of working hard and leading the academy to excellence and for my university to be close to poor people and to transforming the society and serving not only in Nicaragua, but also exchanging with the other Jesuit universities in Latin America.
(At the same time, being provincial was excellent preparation for my new role) because it put me in contact with 210 Jesuits and also a lot of lay women and men who were working in universities, high schools, parishes, schools. So each year I had the privilege to talk with a lot of people. We have 52 institutions in the province and you have to move in different countries, so you learn a lot about the students they are serving as lay people and Jesuits.
Victoria Jones: Tell us a little bit about your academic area-you're an anthropologist.
Fr. Idiáquez: My passion is to work with Indians and to work in rural development. In Nicaragua, the rural area is very important for the economy. (When I was growing up, I was around a lot of) Jesuits who were working in rural areas so my heart is with peasants and Indians. When I was entering the novitiate, there was a question, "What area do you want to be working in when you are ordained?" and I put, with campesinos and Indians. That is why social anthropology is a passion for me. And I dream that after finishing my work at the UCA, I can be working with campesinos.
Victoria Jones: Can you talk about the role of the UCA in Nicaragua?
Fr. Idiáquez: I personally think that the UCA as a Jesuit university has to grow out of the campus and be in contact with poor people because we are the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti. It seems to me that a university has a big responsibility of being present where other people don't want to be and we have to continue having the prophetic mission that is different from the protagonist.
Victoria Jones: What do you think is the role of a U.S. university, like Seattle University, in your mission?
Fr. Idiáquez: Well, this is a big gift from God to have SU as a partner. It's very important for us to have partners like SU. Knowing that you are concerned about poor people… means a lot to us.
Victoria Jones: We have right now between our universities about 12 projects right now. Do you feel an impact from the SU students who come or the teacher exchanges, do you have any idea of what difference it makes?
Fr. Idiáquez: For me the principal experience has been to be with the students at SU who have been working in Nicaragua, visiting the UCA, because they said this experience has changed their lives-the way they that they see the world and the new vision…of the way they are going to be as professionals and people. These students are really valiant and responsible because they have been working in difficult places in Nicaragua. I'm impressed with the way they have been relating with poor people in Nicaragua.
Victoria Jones: Some of UCA's students came to Seattle in the summer. What was their experience like?
Fr. Idiáquez: They said something that made me feel happy also. They said the staff of…Seattle University-even though they are living in the first world and have PhDs and are professionals-they are warm and they are very respectful of our culture and they made us feel at home. It's very important that our students at the UCA have contact with people who are doing research, that they have the capacity of talking with people who come from the first world and to see that academic excellence is close to the human way of treating people, and so that is very important to me, and for them, they repeat that as the most important thing of their experience-the human part of this experience.
Victoria Jones: As you prepare to become president, what is your vision for the university?
Fr. Idiáquez: First, I am grateful to the staff of Seattle University because you have been doing a thing that I am going to receive as a president…and I am very grateful to you, Victoria and to Steve as president, because you have been doing a great job there and I am receiving this social capital, this academic capital, so my account in the bank is full right now, so I have to take advantage of this thing that you are doing!
The second part is…to go ahead with the relationship between these two universities. And the thing that I'm going to say is true-you are part of my team and, as Steve said, I am part of this team. And I am so grateful because Steve will go to Nicaragua for a lecture and to sign an agreement (to formalize SU's and UCA's partnership), and that is kind of the maximum example that you want to be with us.
Victoria Jones: And it will be an honor for us to have an agreement with your signature on it. Is there anything else you want to say to the SU community?
Fr. Idiáquez: The only thing I want to say is thank you very much for everything you have been doing for us…and I go back to Nicaragua with my heart full of love and gratitude.
Victoria Jones: Well, it is equal because you do as much for us. Absolutely. We receive so much from you and from your excellent professors and your students and also your warm and kind staff. It's completely mutual. Thank you!