A ‘bridge’ program for young adults of limited means


Every August for the last 34 years, I have prepared to re-immerse myself in Catholic education for the coming academic year. For the first 13 of these, that meant formative diocesan education in South Jersey. I then went on to Catholic universities and research centers in America and Europe, and eventually moved to the other side of the desk to teach at a number of colleges and seminaries, finally landing at Loyola University Chicago in 2015.

That same year Loyola inaugurated Arrupe College at our Water Tower Campus in downtown Chicago on the Magnificent Mile. Though I teach in the graduate programs at the Institute of Pastoral Studies, we have a close relationship with Arrupe given our emphases and physical proximity.

In the world of Catholic education, Arrupe is an innovative and mission-oriented endeavor with which I am proud to collaborate. Its goal is to provide virtually debt-free liberal arts college education for some of the city’s most vulnerable populations, who are often among the first in their families to attend higher education. It’s a “bridge” program for young adults of limited means, many of underrepresented ethnic categories or residency status. After two years, the students can find greater employment opportunities with an associate’s degree, or go on to complete two more years at Loyola or elsewhere for the traditional bachelor’s degree. One way to think of the goal is to try to draw upon the popular Cristo Rey, Nativity, and Fe y Alegria models and extend them to “community college” populations.

Students take two courses per eight-week term, four days each week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Class sizes are intentionally small. A network of support from tutors, social workers, student success administrators, financial aid advocates, and (ahem!) pastoral professionals work to help provide strategies for academic, economic, and holistic success among those Chicagoland natives who would have little chance of achieving these goals given the barriers to access traditional higher education.

The project was the brainchild of former Loyola President Michael Garanzini, S.J., who has since relocated to spend most of his time in Rome, working on international Jesuit tertiary education at the highest levels of the curia. (In full disclosure: readily admitting my bias, I find him to be a visionary tour de force and always go out of my way to try to get together with him for a long Italian meal when I visit Rome.) It was he who insisted the college be named for legendary social justice advocate Pedro Arrupe, S.J., whose cause for canonization is expected to be formally opened in February.

Because most of the funding for the students comes from donations and various creative private sources, and students are encouraged to work at least part-time while enrolled, most graduate without owing insurmountable amounts of money. Such a structure provides important paths toward greater social integration in particular for undocumented students, on whose behalf I work on a number of university-wide committees. The model is being replicated at other Catholic colleges across the country, and there have been inquiries from other types of private and public colleges as to which elements could work in their contexts.

When I chose to study theology as a professional career — or perhaps more accurately when the discipline chose me (cf. Jn 15:16) — I knew that my vocation was not one to be driven primarily by finances, though I am profoundly blessed to be in the situation where I find myself today. I adamantly believe that Loyola is a unique and inspiring place to work, where care for the entire person (cura personalis) and commitment to the weakest in our community are at least as important to the university administration as is the bottom line, without discounting the need for sound fiscal management and realistic university planning. It is not perfect, as recent conflicts surround unionization and adjunct salaries make clear. But like so much of Catholic education at its best, it does seek to transform lives and produce “men and women for others.”

Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.