Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Women Leaders in the Ignatian Family

Clara Dwyer

Institution: Alpha Sigma Nu

Title: Executive Director

Location: Milwaukee

Other Jesuit institutional connections:

  • Alumna of Santa Clara University
  • Worked at Chicago Jesuit Academy for 6 year
  • Worked at Marquette University for 6 years

What does your job entail?
I have the honor of serving as the executive director of Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit honor society. My role is to provide visionary and exemplary leadership of the society by pursuing our stated strategic goals and objectives. With the board president, my job also entails enabling the board to fulfill its governance function and ensuring that all actions and decisions of the society reflect the values of Alpha Sigma Nu and Jesuit higher education.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of being executive director of Alpha Sigma Nu is connecting with people who are collaborators in the Jesuit mission. I have the privilege of working with members which include faculty, staff and students at our 32 partner Jesuit institutions (currently 27 in the U.S. and five abroad), as well as a vast network of alumni members. There is a common language, a shared vision and an enthusiasm to connect with a network that has a shared purpose.

What is one of the challenges you’re facing right now?
One of the challenges that our organization is facing is the interest and desire to expand further beyond the United States and our five current international chapters. However, the Jesuit network is so vast that the American-centric practices of an honor society do not translate exactly in its current form to every context. There is great potential, nevertheless, to tap into the idea of honoring college graduates around the world who are committed to the Jesuit mission.

What are some of the lights and shadows you’ve experienced as a woman working in partnership with a men’s religious order?
Because our societal systems perpetuate patriarchy, the shadows that I’ve experienced working in partnership with a men’s religious order are ones that I experience in many other facets of society. There are unspoken norms and cultural conventions that prohibit women from being heard and taken seriously as leaders. When women are put in positions of leadership, they are scrutinized at a higher degree. Some of the lights are the pockets of progress in Jesuit higher education where important questions are being raised, and Jesuit leaders are critically examining these systems that uphold outdated cultural conventions and norms. I, as a person who identifies as a woman and Ignatian collaborator, have been asked to provide feedback on improvements to make spaces more inclusive. It will be interesting to know how women collectively will inform the actionable changes that could occur in the future.

How does Ignatian spirituality shape your approach to work?
A foundational component of my work is rooted in the practice of discernment. In both moments of consolation and desolation, our work calls us to be present to God’s grace. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness, but acknowledging that we are encouraged to slow down and to be deliberate sustains the work.

What’s one of your favorite quotes about leadership or the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Bring lightness into the work. I think the person who said it meant both to work smart but also to be a light to others by focusing on being present and joyful and prioritizing relationships.