A Jesuit priest and a comedian walk into a bar…
That may sound like the beginning of a Catholic joke, but it actually happened (and happens) regularly. The only difference is that the setting is a newsroom, not a drinking hole. Stephen Colbert, the famous comedian and host of CBS’ Late Show, and Jesuit Father James Martin, editor at large of America magazine, regularly hash out the nuances of the Catholic religion in modern times.
In the likeness of Martin and Colbert, Pope Francis uses modern media to address points of tension in the Catholic Church. Having held the institution’s highest office for nearly two years, the pope’s approach is quite different than that of his predecessors. His strategy is, in many ways, "rebranding" the Church for a new audience and providing an updated image for its most ardent constituents—the very same thing Jesuit universities are doing across the country.
What is left at stake for both Pope Francis and Jesuit universities is whether this rebranding attenuates the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church. As a branch of Catholic education, Jesuit universities are required to fall in line with the Church as a whole and with the requests of the local bishop. Yet, similar to secular colleges and universities, they are also places where young adults are encouraged to think critically and to explore variations in religious ideology. The balance of mission, identity, and modern times—and whether that balance negates the central principles of Jesuit and Catholic education—is what lies at the root of the tensions present for these schools.