Students of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School pray during a candlelight rite in their chapel, the Church of Gesu, on the North Philadelphia school’s campus.

Beginning this academic year, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School launched the “Year of the Examen” to live its Catholic and Jesuit identity in more vibrant, integrated ways.

The North Philadelphia Catholic high school’s Ignatian Engagement Committee, under the leadership of Jesuit Father John W. Swope, school president, researched best practices in 35 U.S. Jesuit high schools as part of the plan to develop dynamic Ignatian formation programming.

“Our research was exhausting, if not exhaustive,” said Jesuit Father Chuck Frederico. “Our team of seven colleagues tapped into our network of Jesuit high schools to learn of their methods of formation for students and adults. The result has been transformational.”


What unfolded for the committee was the examen, a type of daily examination of conscience and an integral part of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

“St. Ignatius left us a precious gift, the examen,” said Susie Cook, an English teacher who serves as chair of the committee. “This small prayer approaches the mundane in mighty ways. As a microcosm of the Spiritual Exercises, and as a vision of God indefatigably at work in our day-to-day lives, the examen gradually revealed itself as the necessary core of our programming design.”

Coinciding with the committee’s research in the winter of 2019 were the four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP) issued by the Jesuits. The first of these, “Showing the Way to God: Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises,” aligned with the examen “as a daily invitation to discern God at work in our lives (and) with each other — both within the Prep and with every Jesuit apostolate across the globe,” Cook said.

As part of the Year of the Examen programming, each teacher and colleague prays the examen with students in a personalized way each Wednesday morning. Teachers also pray the examen with each other in “colleague examens” over the course of the year. Reflecting on the prayer’s fruits and practical applications are also part of the prayer sessions.

The examen also has been woven into board meetings, team practices, classroom reflections and administrative matters.

Since St. Joseph’s Prep plans to align the next four years with the Jesuits’ four UAPs, the committee has begun planning to align with the second theme, “Walking with the Excluded,” for 2020-2021.

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