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History of the Woodstock Theological Center

Woodstock College in Maryland: Our Spiritual & Intellectual Heritage

In 1869, the Society of Jesus founded a new college in Woodstock, Maryland, for the purpose of educating young Jesuits and preparing them for ministry. Over the next 100 years, generations of Jesuits were trained at Woodstock College.

After Vatican II, the Jesuits developed a new understanding that priests should be formed amidst the human concerns and conditions of an urban environment, not in rural isolation. Thus in 1969, Woodstock College relocated to New York City, near Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary.

Shortly thereafter, the Jesuits decided that they no longer needed to maintain five seminaries in the United States; and in 1972, the decision was made to end Woodstock’s existence as a college. However, there was a great desire among faculty to continue Woodstock’s work of forming individuals as Ignatian thinkers, and carrying out the Jesuit intellectual mission within the worlds of academia and public policy.

The Transformation of Woodstock into a Research Center Located at Georgetown University

Thus in 1973, the Maryland and New York Jesuit Provincials announced that Woodstock College, along with its valuable library, was being transformed into a new “Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection,”¯ to be located in Washington, DC.  This location in the nation’s capital would provide the Center’s research fellows with an opportunity to engage and collaborate with individuals from the Jesuit Conference, the Bishops’ Conference, a vast array of religious communities and houses of study, lawmakers and government agencies, foreign embassies, the headquarters of national and international NGO’s, non-profit associations and organizations involved in social activism, think-tanks, media outlets, major corporations, and a rich concentration of higher-educational institutions like Georgetown University and the Catholic University of America. It was envisioned that the theological reflection of Woodstock’s research fellows would be continually nourished, informed, and energized through their personal participation in the work of Catholic and Jesuit social ministries active in Washington’s urban areas.

The exact location of the Woodstock Theological Center was determined when Georgetown University agreed to host the Woodstock Library and the Center’s offices. During the following decades, most of the Center’s Jesuit research fellows have lived together in the Woodstock Jesuit Community, located in a residence a couple of blocks from campus. Other key research fellows such as Walter Burghardt, S.J., have lived in placed like the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Jesuit Community in downtown DC.  Woodstock’s lay research fellows and staff live in neighborhoods and cities throughout Washington’s greater metropolitan area.

The Early Years: Development of Woodstock's Empirical & Multidisciplinary Methodology

During its first years of existence, in the late 1970’s, the Center’s work largely revolved around a series of team-based projects. A single topic would be selected, and all of the Woodstock fellow would reflect on the topic and write an article about some aspect of it, drawing from his or her area of expertise. The resulting essays would be compiled and released as a single volume. Notable books from this era included:

  • Claims in Conflict: Retrieving and Renewing the Catholic Human Rights Tradition, David Hollenbach, S.J.
  • Ethics and Nuclear Strategy, Harold P. Ford and Francis X. Winters, S.J., eds.
  • The Faith that Does Justice, Examining the Christian Sources for Social Change, John C. Haughey, S.J., ed.
  • Personal Values in Public Policy, John C. Haughey, S.J., ed.
  • Religious Freedom: 1965-1975. A Symposium on a Historic Document, Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., ed.

During the 1980’s, Woodstock continued its interdisciplinary ‘team approach’ to projects, while also expanding the role of research fellows like Tom Reese, S.J., who pursued independent research. Catholic social teaching was applied to issues of economics, politics, and human rights. Notable publications from this time included:             

  • Above Every Name: The Lordship of Christ and Social Systems, edited by Thomas E. Clarke, S.J.
  • Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church, Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
  • Between God, Caesar, Priests, Sisters and Political Office in the United States, edited by Madonna Kolbenschlag, H.M.
  • Christian Faith and the U.S. Economy, Scripture Sharing on Bishops' Economic Pastoral, James E. Hug, S.J.
  • Human Rights in the Americas: The Struggle for Consensus, edited by Alfred T. Hennelly, S.J., and John P. Langan, S.J.
  • The Nuclear Dilemma and the Just War Tradition, edited by William V. O'Brien and John Langan, S.J.
  • Social Justice Ministry: Foundations and Concerns, Paul Steidl-Meier, S.J.
  • Tracing the Spirit: Communities, Social Action and Theological Reflection, edited by James E. Hug, S.J.

The 1990's: Growth of Woodstock's Global Perspective

During the 1990’s, the work of individual scholars and interdisciplinary teams of researchers was complemented by a new and highly empirical model, in which Woodstock would study an issue by bringing together all the actors and stakeholders who are affected by the issue -- from all parts of the spectrum -- to reflect on their personal experience of the issue, under the guidance of a theologian and other scholars. These consultations yielded publications whose theological insights were rooted in the real-world experience of individuals. This process was used by the Seminar in Business Ethics and the Colloquium on Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution.

Another change was the rise of projects whose primary product was not a book, but change in the hearts and minds of individual persons. Programs like Preaching the Just Word, Church Leadership, the Woodstock Business Conference, and the Arrupe Program in Social Ethics for Business were charged with crafting workshops and retreat programs that could be repeated around the country for different audiences.

Woodstock also responded to the call of Jesuit General Congregation 34 by expanding its international focus. One key part of that has been the Global Economy and Cultures project, a pioneering study on the theological aspects of economic globalization. Another part is the International Visiting Fellows program, which gives lay and Jesuit scholars from around the world an opportunity to spend several months at Woodstock, carrying out an independent research project of their own design.

During this time, publications of the Woodstock Colloquium on Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution included:

  • Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution: Reality and Utility
  • Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution: The Bosian Experience
  • Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution: The Northern Ireland Experience
  • Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution: The Experiences of the Truth Commissions

Publications of the Woodstock Seminar in Business Ethics included:

  • Creating and Maintaining an Ethical Corporate Climate
  • Ethical Considerations in Corporate Takeovers
  • Ethical Considerations in the Business Aspects of Health Care
  • Ethical Issues in Managed Health Care Organizations

Individual Woodstock fellows like Tom Reese, S.J. Walter Burghardt, S.J., Leon Hooper, S.J., Dolores Leckey, and Gasper Lo Biondo, S.J., also authored numerous books, essays, and articles of their own.

2000 and Beyond: Theological Reflection on the Human Problems of Today

Since 2000, Woodstock has expanded and enhanced its expertise on international topics. The Global Economy and Cultures project and International Visiting Fellowship program have put Woodstock at the heart of a worldwide network of Jesuit scholars and lay collaborators that is addressing crucial social issues from an Ignatian perspective, with GEC engaging 90 Jesuits and colleagues from every part of the globe.
The Center’s Catholic Higher Education project, its Interreligious Dialogue on Education, and its publication on lay-Jesuit collaboration in higher education has deepened Woodstock’s value as a theological resource to Catholic and Jesuit educational institutions. The Arrupe Program in Social Ethics for Business and Preaching the Just Word are helping to shape leaders and thinkers within the Church and civil society. The Ignatius-Lonergan Seminar has continued to refine Woodstock’s unique method of theological reflection.

Woodstock’s newest projects include the Theology of Migration, coordinated by Gap Lo Biondo and Donald Kerwin, former executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network; and Health Care: Ethical Foundations and Framework, examining the moral mandate for public access to high-quality health care from an interreligious perspective.

Books published since 2000 have included:

  • Global Economy and Cultures: A Narrative Approach to Globalization, a product of the Global Economy and Cultures project (forthcoming).
  • The Dynamism of Desire: Bernard Lonergan on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, James L. Connor, S.J., and the fellows of the Woodstock Theological Center.
  • Just War, Lasting Peace: What Christian Traditions Can Teach Us, Dolores R. Leckey, ed.
  • Forgiveness in International Politics, Bill Bole, Robert Hennemeyer, and Drew Christiansen, S.J.
  • Lay-Jesuit Collaboration in Higher Education, James L. Connor, S.J., ed.
  • The Ethics of Lobbying: Organized Interests, Political Power, and the Common Good, a product of Woodstock's Ethics in Public Policy program.
  • Spiritual Exercises for Church Leaders: Facilitator's Guide and Participant’s Book, by Woodstock fellow Dolores R. Leckey and Paula Minaert.
  • Long Have I Loved You: A Theologian Reflects on His Church, Walter J. Burghardt, S.J.