Listen to Father Stephen Katsouros’ Interview

Jim: Good morning! Welcome to Local Foods and Handcut Foods here on Chicago’s north side. I’m Jim Murphy and this is Grow TV – Grow Forward TV. We’re here with Father Steve Kastorous. Dean and executive director of Arrupe College at Loyola University. A very exciting new project on Chicago’s north side and also author of Come to Believe. So Father Steve, I’d like to just ask you a couple questions about your project and welcome you to Chicago.

Ft. Stephen: That’s great, Jim.

Jim: You know, let’s just start and tell people a little bit about how – where you grew up, how you got started, you know, take us up to the point in time where you decided you wanted to become a Jesuit.

Ft. Stephen: Oh, wow. Okay. Well, I spent most of my life in New York City, and I guess my first exposure to the Jesuits or the society of Jesus was, I did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, or JVC, the preliminary. So I’m the son of a Greek diner owner, and I was the first one in my family to go to college. I told my father that I was majoring in English, and he said, “English? You speak English. Why are you majoring in English?” So four years later, when I told him I wanted to do the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the JVC, he said, “JVC, you’re an English major. You know nothing about stereo equipment, why are you doing JVC?” So he was a wisenheimer. My assignment with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps was at Covenant House in Times Square, a really extraordinary experience, and one that kind of confirmed for me… my desire to accompany young people in a pretty substantive way. At Covenant House, it was a very transient population, and that was the mission of that organization. I landed at a middle school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan before it was Disney-ized in the early 1980s called Nativity, run by Jesuits. And that really suited my desire to really work with students year round.

Jim: You were a layman person?

Ft. Stephen: A layman person, had no interest in the Jesuits, but I kept coming back to Nativity for a year, two years, three years, four years. After a while the Jesuits said, “look, you know, it’s time, why don’t you give us a whirl here.” So I said, okay, let me get this out of my system. I entered the society as a novice in August of 1987, so almost 30 years ago. And I thought, well, this’ll be, like, a weekend, you know? And then I’ll get on with my life. And thirty years later, here I am.

Jim: (laughing) That’s a good story.

Ft. Stephen: Yeah.

Jim: And how long was the process from the time you decided to go into it until the time you were ordained and on your way?

Ft. Stephen: Yeah, so only during my time, I already had college, I had undergrad as an English major, as you know my father’s story, and a Masters from Fordham, and – but the Jesuits are very well trained. Two years as a novice. Two years studying philosophy, and I did that here, studying at Loyola University Chicago.  And it was my first exposure to the Midwest, to Chicago, and I loved it. I loved Loyola and I loved this city. It was great being here. I never knew I’d be back here to work. Three years working. So for me, that was starting a middle school, much like Nativity. This one was located in Harlem, a middle school for African American boys. I started with another Jesuit and a Layman. And that was, again, a great experience. I found out that I liked administration at that point. I went on from there to study theology and while I was getting a degree, I got a masters in administration from the Harvard Graduate School for Education. That was a really extraordinary experience. I was a deacon for a year at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in New York City on Park Avenue, a great parish, great parish community, and I was ordained on June the 13th, 1998. And really, the happiest day of my life was the next day, the 14th, when I was able to celebrate mass with my family and friends as a way of saying, you, really “thank you,” thank you for carrying me in my vocation through all these years of preparation and training with the Jesuits.

Jim: So, tell us a little about the history of St. Ignatius, who he was, what he did, most of my viewers have no idea. We have a high school here in Chicago that does very well, St. Ignatius, but I don’t think many people know much about him. Why don’t you tell us about him?

Ft. Stephen: Sure. So St. Ignatius was born to a noble family in the Bask area of Spain, not far from Balbow. And Ignatius was the youngest son. He was a soldier and a ladies man, had a lot of daring-do, and saw himself as a soldier and saw himself as someone who would be a player in the Spanish court. He was injured during a battle in Pamplona and, you know, hit by a cannonball in his leg, and that cannonball experience really changed the trajectory of his life. He was recovering in the family castle, and I visited it and it really is a castle. And during that time of recovery, he was a reader, he wanted to read a lot of romantic novels. Instead what he read was available for his reading was a bible and The Lives of the Saints. And particularly The Lives of the Saints really inspired him. He said, “you know, if St. Francis of the Ceasar, St. Dominic could do great things, perhaps I can too.” Also Ignatius was very romantic, he saw himself as wooing a great woman, a queen, and he transferred a lot of that great affection for Mary, the mother of Jesus, so he came out of his recovery sort of a different man and went away outside to an area of Barcelona and prayed and prayed and prayed and came up with a handbook of prayer that has helped thousands if not millions of people since, which is called The Spiritual Exercises. So if students and retreatants and people who have benefitted from this handbook of prayer. What makes Ignatius so accessible and so important to the 21st century is that his style of prayer meets people where they are at. You know, he doesn’t make God something that’s up in the sky or far away or not part of our real lives. Ignatius used to talk about how we can find God in all things, in each other, in our relationships, in nature, in the joys of our lives and also in the setbacks and sufferings of our lives, that God is everywhere. Ignatius was very committed to education and he was sort of an all or nothing kind of guy so he wanted to get the best education he could because he said the people of God deserved the best. He went to the University of Paris which was the most elite university on the planet at that time. And he befriended a number of other, younger men including a man named Francis Xavier and he was very charismatic and very persuasive – Ignatius was – and together with Francis Xavier and other students he formed the Society of Jesus. Ignatius became the great administrator for the Jesuits. And again, very thoughtful. He would encourage the Jesuits to practice discernment. And again, that’s what makes him so relevant and so modern. Think about – reflect on – where God is in your life. When you’re making a decision, you know, how do you make decisions? Do you have a moral compass? What gives you what he called “consolation?” What gives you desolation? He would encourage Jesuits to do a daily examination of conscience where you sort of discern, alright, where was God yesterday? In my case, in our students, in meetings, and in interactions and here in Chicago. Where did I fall short in terms of being the person that God is inviting me to be? But anyway, Ignatius as administrator. So one of the things that –

Jim: Let me just ask you one quick question about Paris, in Paris, did they open the first Jesuit church in Paris, is that correct?

Ft. Stephen: They didn’t, no. Ignatius landed in Rome and he studied in Paris but really he got the approval from the Pope in 1540 to start this new society of Jesus. Even that was very controversial, that title. You know, usually they were called Franciscans after St. Francis or Dominicans after St. Dominic. Jesus was pretty, you know, perceived as arrogant, which is apart of the Jesuit charism, I guess. The idea of the society of Jesus was really, we want to be companions with, we want to be – we consider ourselves in close company with Jesus. He is the central person, the central relationship in our lives. The Jesuits at that point were getting a reputation for being extraordinary teachers because they had this great training. And other people want the benefit from this teaching. Now, I love this: Ignatius was being encouraged to open schools for lay people, laymen, and he said: “No, no way, we’re not starting schools, it’s a terrible idea, I don’t want to be bogged down with a college or a school or a university.” Now, you know, if that were the case, I’d be unemployed right now if Ignatius hadn’t changed his mind. Basically, Ignatius realized, after a while, that schools were an important vehicle to impact people. Ignatius used to say that as Jesuits, we should be influencing those who will influence others. And schools and education were a great way of influencing leaders in Rome – the first school was opened, actually in Sicily, in Messina, in the late 1540s. And it’s become the most successful and far-reaching education network in the world. For example, there are over 200 Jesuit colleges and universities in the world today and 28 of them are in the United States.

Jim: That’s unbelievable. That’s really something.

Ft. Stephen: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Jim: And even in Asia and all around the world

Ft. Stephen: Well, he sent his friend, Francis Xavier first to India, and was wildly successful there. Well, first to Japan, he was successful there, and that was the genius of Ignatius, so, you know, it wasn’t like, “oh, we’re bringing God to Japan.” Rather, Francis Xavier learned Japanese. He dressed as the Japanese did. He ate Japanese cuisine. And the message was, we really honor who you are and what your culture is and what your values are and what your traditions are. SO Ignatius used to say, if you go through their door, you’ll come out through our door. But it’s really an exchange. One of his other missionaries, Mateo Richie, was wildly successful, the same kind of plan in China. And this has always been our strategy, called enculturation, where we go deep in the culture where ever we are assigned and find value there and learn from the people we’re serving. It’s not this top-down, we have all the answers, and you’re this empty vessel and we’re going to enlighten you, but rather, let’s learn from each other.

Jim: Why do you think it’s been so many years, the Society of Jesus has been around, that there hasn’t been a pope that hasn’t been a Jesuit, up until now. Why do you think that is?

Ft. Stephen: Well, you know, again, I’m not good at calling trends. And, you know, right before Cardinal Bergoglio’s election of Pope Francis, I said, “Oh, there will never in my lifetime, never ever, be a Jesuit pope.” Never say never, right? I think – who knows, right? A lot of times people have said that the Jesuits are seen as being so influential that not being elevated to the papacy was a way of keeping us in check. It’s our Jesuit arrogance, I guess.

Jim: So, you’ve written a book.

Ft. Stephen: Yes.

Jim: Come to Believe. It’s about some of your efforts here in Chicago, an amazing project that I find to be, personally, one of the more – one of the most interesting educational initiatives we’ve seen in Chicago in a long time. Tell us about – let’s start by talking about the book.

Ft. Stephen: Okay.

Jim: What inspired – why a book?

Ft. Stephen: I have to say, writing a book while being engaged with a startup – what was I thinking? So Orbice, a Catholic publishing house back east, reached out to me in August of 2015. Just as we were enrolling our first class of students. So it was a mad dash to get off the ground. And here is this, you know, great guy, I’ve known him from previous chapters of my life and he said hey Steve why don’t you write a book about the startup of Arrupe college and I said, you know I don’t have time to brush my teeth now, much less write a book. But I thought about it and I thought, well, it’s an important story. You know, I frequently say, and I mean this with all sincerity, I have the best gig in higher ed right now, you know? This opportunity to make a Jesuit, Catholic, private liberal arts education available and accessible and affordable to all unrepresented young women and men in Chicago. So it’s an important story to record.

Jim: It tells the story of your startup. It tells the story of your first year.

Ft. Stephen: Correct.

Jim: You’re just completing your second year.

Ft. Stephen: Yeah.

Jim: So this is your first graduating class.

Ft. Stephen: That’s right.                                                                   

Jim: Wow. So tell us about that

Ft. Stephen: Yeah, so we’re a two-year college. Our students get associates degrees. It’s the first time that Loyola University has offered an associates degree program. It’s the first time that any of the 28 colleges or universities started by the Jesuits in the US have initiated something like this. So this is a really big deal for Jesuit and Catholic education. And our first graduation is on Saturday, August the 12th. Our students go to school year-round. So they take four classes in the fall semester, four in the spring, and two in the summer. But we know this is going to be an extraordinary day for our students, for ourselves, for Loyola University, for Jesuit education, and I think for the city of Chicago. Getting here has been quite a journey. I’m very grateful to our students who we say have co-pioneered this with us. They’re the pioneers. They took a great risk enrolling in this startup. Loyola University has a very strong brand identity here in Chicago, and rightfully so.

Jim: Why Loyola university and instead of one of the other 28 Jesuit schools?

Ft. Stephen: Well, it’s a great question. You know, I think there’s a great spirit of innovation here in Chicago. You know the first Cristo Ray high school opened here 20 years ago, now there are over 30 of those. That’s in Pilsen. That was a big experiment, and it’s been a wildly successful one, so if your viewers don’t know, that’s a high school started by Jesuits and lay people and they way they make a Jesuit high school education affordable in this group is that the students work one day a week to offset their tuition expenses. And now, as I said, there are over 30 of these around the country. Now, so there’s already a tradition for, how, let’s rethink how to deliver Jesuit education in Chicago. Father Mike Aronzini, former president of Loyola University, this was really his vision and Mike had been president for 14 years before he stepped down, now he’s the university’s chancellor. But in conversations with college administrators, public high schools, charter high schools and Catholic high schools, he would say what happens to your graduates who are not 4.0, 3.9 GPAs with ACT scores of 30 or higher and are from low-income backgrounds? Not much happens for them. They languish in city colleges and for some students, they can be very successful in city colleges but in others they get lost in the shuffle. They rack up a lot of debt. They may enroll in the military and that’s certainly admirable an honorable but we all like options. And Loyola University and Jesuit higher ed was just not an option for these young people.

Jim: So the cost for a student to go to Loyola University and live there in the dorm, it can cost 55, $60,000 a year.

Ft. Stephen: That’s correct.

Jim: And that’s pretty much, across Jesuit universities, that’s more the norm. That’s the norm. That could be right upper-middle, middle. What is the cost, one of your families to come to Arrupe college for a year?

Ft. Stephen: So our total cost is $15,804 dollars per student, okay? All of our students commute so that’s a big cost savings. Also we benefit from being in a building on Pearson and State, less than a block away from Chicago and State. So it’s great for commuters. But it’s 15-8. Now, our students – unless they’re undocumented – our students are qualified, they’re eligible for federal and state aid. Now that immediately shaves off $10,000 of that $15,804. We bill our students a little over $1,200 a year. Alright? And the rest we fundraise.

Jim: And that’s your job.

Ft. Stephen: Correct. Right. So, all you viewers out there, A-R-R-U-P-E. (laughs)

Jim: So $1200 a year gets your graduates into a position that they would be possibly eligible to graduate from a four-year school with two more years.

Ft. Stephen: That’s right.

Jim: Or two and a half.

Ft. Stephen: That’s right.

Jim: So you’ve got this first graduating class of how many?

Ft. Stephen: Yeah, so we’re looking to graduate 109 on August the 12th. 109 will walk, so yeah.

Jim: And how many do you think will go to four-year college in the future?

Ft. Stephen: You know, it’s funny. The transfer thing is different from fresh out of high school. Also we’re finding that the May 1 cutoff – this was in an article in the New York Times recently, this was the June 1, so we’re doing this interview at the end of June – there’s still a lot of horse trading going on here in terms of cobbling together tuitions and that kind of a thing. Many Jesuit higher institutions around the country have been very generous. They’re very supportive. They’re watching what we’re doing so we’ll stop watching and start taking our graduates. And they are! They’re responding.

Jim: Oh, good.

Ft. Stephen: S0me of our students are continuing on, at least 20 of them are continuing on at Loyola university including living on campus, which is a huge investment of Loyola University.

Jim: Wonderful.

Ft. Stephen: Other students of ours are going onto the University of Wisconsin in Madison. UW in Milwaukee, they’re going to Rippon college in Wisconsin, UIC here, Dominican, DePaul, and yeah, so yeah, that’s the lineup.

Jim: Fantastic. Fantastic. What do you think is the one thing you’ve come to learn working with the Chicago community in terms of fundraising, in terms of trying to tell your story around town, in what you’re trying to do? What resonates with you?

Ft. Stephen: Yeah. So a big thing, when I start talking about Arrupe college, immediately people say, God what a great idea. You know, no matter what your political stripe is, I think people are saying, this is so needed, it’s so great that this is happening. Why wasn’t this thought of before? How can we replicate this in other universities and other locations locally, statewide, and nationally? And then for Arrupe, you know, when we talk, when we give all of our students the opportunity to be involved in summer orientation, which includes being apart of a retreat at Loyola University’s retreat and Ecology Center in Woodstock, Illinois, where everyone gets how important orientation is. I mean, you know, this doesn’t require a whole lot of research to know that if you have a good orientation, where you meet your advisors, you register for classes, you meet your classmates, you know where you’re going, you know how long your commute’s going to be, the retention rates go up. The sense of belonging increases. That’s what we want for these students. So people say, alright Father, so how much is that orientation per student? Okay, $660. Alright, I’ll pay for X amount of kids to do orientation. We give all of our freshman laptops so that they’re all on the same page, so it’s not like, well, you’re doing your homework on your smartphone and I’m doing mine on a tablet and he’s doing on a desktop and he doesn’t have anything to work off of. We’re all working off the same machine. So again, that’s an opportunity, For the transfer for four-year students, we take the students on college tour. So they’re looking at schools in Indiana and St. Louis and around Illinois so people want to support that, that makes sense to a lot of our folks. We provide a breakfast and lunch program every day. All of our students are affected by gun and gang violence in Chicago and many are affected by food and housing insecurities. So we provide a phenomenal nutritious and delicious breakfast and lunch that, for a lot of our students, these are incentives for them to come to school because they’re not getting that at home.

Jim: So you learn a little about what to eat and what not to eat.

Ft. Stephen: That’s right, and also –

Jim: It’s a new way about thinking about food.

Ft. Stephen: Well, and also these are commuter students, and again, remember my father ran a Greek diner, it’s all about the food with me. This is how you build community. We are breaking bread together, it’s not just you’re in and out. Were actually sitting down, talking about your classes and a group project and about your professor and how crazy Father Katsouros is, but you’re getting a good meal.

Jim: Talk about your personal connection to Eataly.      

Ft. Stephen: Oh. (laughs) Yeah, so Eataly of course is, you know, one of the great tourist sites here in Chicago now. And one of the co-owners and operators is a near and dear friend of mine, that’s Lydia Pastianich. So Lydia has had a cooking show on PBS for many years. I was president of a high school in Manhattan for a long time. Her daughter is an alumni of that, so I got to know Lydia there. And Lydia is very entrepreneurial and so is working at Arrupe college. So early on here, Lydia and I were sitting at Eataly and I said, “alright, Lydia. You know what I’m going to ask you. I want you to join our board.” So you know I sent my kids to Jesuit high schools, my daughter went to Georgetown, my son went to Boston College. She said, I’m trying to discern like you Jesuits, so she said, so when I pray, I pray to the Blessed Mother. So she said, “Blessed Mother, Father Katsouros is going to ask me to join his board. What should I do, Blessed Mother?” And Lydia said, “the Blessed Mother told me that you do whatever Father Katsouros tells you to do.” So it’s great when the Blessed Mother and I are on the same team.

Jim: She’s on your sideline.

Ft. Stephen: Yeah.

Jim: So you got a new class coming in September or August, and how many kids have you taken? How many apply? And what’s the change in terms of the applicant in terms of your first year?

Ft. Stephen: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, without many success metrics – I mean, we’ve just retained a class, we’re graduating our first class – but the word is out, and you know, if we ever thought, if we ever doubted, if we were ever uncertain if there was a need for this, well, you know, we have 200 seats for next years class, max. We have 1300 applicants.

Jim: Wow.

Ft. Stephen: And some changes. We reached out to more African American applicants which meant going to, targeting more CPS institutions that reported higher enrollments of black students. So maybe our first year we skewed a little more towards Catholic high schools but this past year and now this year we’re seeing many more applicants from CPS as well as charter and Catholic schools. All of our students –pardon me – all of our applicants are required to interview with us. And we thought at first, this would be, you know, an obstacle, that we would be setting ourselves up for defeat here, like, oh, this is a hassle, why should I do this? Why would I come in on a Saturday? You know, to be –

Jim: To do the interview.

Ft. Stephen: Yes, you know, this could be a deterrent. But we find that our students find it – and this is my word – elevating. They’re being wooed. And we have our faculty, we have our Jesuits, we have alumni faculty from the university and staff of color in the interviews and we’re looking for resilience and persistence in these students. So we’ll ask a question, listen, can you describe an obstacle that you’ve faced? For some of our students, it’s like, “which one do you want to hear about?”

Jim: (chuckles) Every day.

Ft. Stephen: But we’ll say alright, so what was it? How did you deal with it? Did you ask anyone for help? Is that person helpful? Are you still in it? What was it resolved? What did you learn from it? How would you advise a younger sibling about it? And that really tells us a lot about a student’s problem-solving skills. Again, we want these students to be wooed. So we have an Arrupe night for all the students that we have accepted. And at the end of that, there’s a student panel and of course our current students are the best salespeople for this. But I present each student that we’ve accepted with a frame. And I say to them, “so here’s a frame” – they’re all seniors in high school at that point – “you can take a picture of yourself, a selfie, and stick it in the frame, or your prom picture, your graduation picture, a picture of me, whatever you want,” and then I say, “But hang onto this frame because two years from now, in this frame you’re going to put your diploma from Arrupe college of Loyola University.” And it’s very moving for them. A lot of our current sophomores are saying, “I’ve got my frame. The diploma’s going to go in there. You know, I remember when what you said, Father.” So it’s very aspirational for them. But these are students that often are not wooed. They’re not the full-pays. They’re not the 4.0s. They’re not the athletes. But we want them to know that we really want them. And, you know, I think that they’re influencing the trajectory of Jesuit higher ed. If we get this right here, I can’t wait to see this movement spread to other universities and colleges. Jesuit, Catholic, and, you know the sky is the limit.

Jim: Well, this has been great. And I think everybody who watches will learn something about what I said in the beginning, one of the most exciting education initiatives in the city of Chicago. I think you’re doing special work and helping a group of kids that too often get left behind and have no chance to compete with other kids and this is a great opportunity and even if only 50 or 60 or 70 percent go on to a four year college, it’s still such a big number of kids and such a big change. Thanks so much.

Ft. Stephen: Thanks a lot, Jim. Thanks so much for your interest and enthusiasm.

Jim: Great.

Ft. Stephen: Great

A Passion for Education

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Loyola University’s very own Father Stephen Katsouros. Chicago has a rich history of multicultural and religious backgrounds, with one of the largest Catholic populations of any American city. With a third of Chicagoans self-identifying as Catholic even as religious affiliation has dwindled in recent times, the Catholic Church has a strong presence in many facets of Chicago. One such area is education. Watch the interview to learn more about how Father Katsouros is shaping education here in the city and around the world.

Video Segments

Arrupe College’s Associate Program

Father Stephen Katsouros discusses the importance of Arrupe College’s Associate Degree program. Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago is a two year college that offers a debt-free degree program for Chicago’s undeserved and hard-working students. The college partners with four year programs and scholarships to make a four year degree attainable to anyone – the first of its kind for Jesuit schools in America.

Father Stephen Katsourous on Writing a Book

Father Stephen Katsouros recently founded Loyola University’s Arrupe College. Stephen reflects on this experience in his first book, Come To Believe: How Jesuits Are Reinventing Education (Again). In this segment Father Katsouros discusses writing his first book, and how he hopes the Arrupe College model inspires other colleges throughout the nation.
This segment is part of the follwing blog post

A Conversation with Father Stephen Katsouros, and the Founding of Aruppe College

Chicago has a rich history of multicultural and religious backgrounds, with one of the largest Catholic populations of any American city. With a third of Chicagoans self-identifying as Catholic even […]