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Women Leaders in the Ignatian Family

Annie Phoenix

Institution: Loyola University New Orleans

Title: Executive Director, Jesuit Social Research Institute

Location: New Orleans

What does your job entail?
The Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) works to transform the Gulf South through research, education, advocacy and service on the core issues of poverty, race and migration. The institute is a collaboration of Loyola University New Orleans and the Society of Jesus, rooted in a faith that does justice.

As executive director of JSRI, I have the privilege of building and supporting a phenomenal staff and advisory board, as well as developing JSRI programs and fundraising efforts in line with our mission. In my first year, I have primarily concentrated on building a prison education program at Loyola and collaborating with other Jesuit leaders through the Jesuit Prison Education Network.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is working with students in the prison and on campus. As much as I love research and administration, I’m an educator at heart. Accompanying students as they grow and learn gives me purpose. I love to watch students gain confidence and find their path. One of our students in the prison wrote to us:

“Furthering my education during my incarceration has been almost from the beginning my hope and dream above all else, constantly in my prayers. My prior college experience constituted the happiest years of my life and I’ve deeply regretted not finishing. I must admit that when I received the acceptance letter, after reading it multiple times, I cried for sheer joy. So again, thank you (and everyone else involved in the process of bringing Loyola to RCC) sincerely.

“One of the things that incarceration has done to me is compounded feelings of worthlessness and meaninglessness, which I’ve already struggled with most of my life, but for the first time in a long time I feel once again in control of my own future and that good things could be just beyond the horizon. Loyola is the number one contributor to this positive shift in my life.”

I get to be a part of that student’s journey. Basically, I have the best job in the world.

What is one of the challenges you’re facing right now?
JSRI’s most immediate challenge and opportunity is growth! We’ve secured additional funding to support our work and have the opportunity to hire new people and expand our focus. Growth is always a challenge — it’s exciting, but also requires great care and consideration to move in the direction that we are being called. Progress is always slower than I think it will be, but in this job, I have the grace to take time and listen for vision.

How does Ignatian spirituality shape your approach to work?
Ignatian spirituality has been the greatest gift of this job. I didn’t have any experience with the Jesuits prior to starting this position. I was immediately drawn to the social justice focus of the Universal Apostolic Preferences. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP), and I am making the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. ICP taught me the basics, and daily prayer and meditation has deepened my faith and connection to God. I’ve been able to share Ignatian spirituality with our students in the prison, too. I am grateful not only for the tools and resources but also for the people. I’ve loved getting to know Jesuit priests and the amazing folks that work with the Jesuits internationally. I’m grateful to be a part of this network!

What’s one of your favorite quotes about leadership or the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
I strive to be a servant leader. A mentor told me, “Bosses tell people what to do. Leaders work as hard as you do to do what needs to be done.” I see administration and leadership as a ministry. I pay close attention and listen to the people that I work with in order to serve them and move us all toward our goals. It’s not easy to remember to listen. Some days I get caught up in the urgency of deadlines or pressure to get it all done, and I fail to see the people in front of me as whole people. When I’m able to disrupt that pattern — take a breath, say a prayer or go for a walk — I find that the work gets easier, the solutions are more obvious, and people are happier. I have a tremendous respect for the people that I work with, and I feel grateful for their daily service to our mission. Staying aware of myself, grounded in gratitude and connected to God keeps us all moving in the right direction.