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Women Leaders in the Ignatian Family

Maria Isabel Domenech

Institution: Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola

Title: Principal

Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico

What does your job entail?
As principal, I collaborate in the mission leading spiritual and academic programs at Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola. I supervise school processes, procedures and programs that ensure a holistic formation of college-bound young men. I assess teaching practices, monitor student performance, foster homeschool connections, revise school policies and procedures, hire for the mission, evaluate academic staff, oversee school curricula and extracurricular activities, lead accreditation processes, and oversee the budget for academic programs.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of being an Ignatian educator is journeying with youth. The most rewarding part of my job is having the opportunity to accompany students and see them achieve their goals.  I enjoy visiting classrooms to see students engage in deep analysis and debates and participate actively in class discussions. I have an open door policy for teachers, students and parents. Students visit me to present proposals for clubs, organizations and changes in our school processes, such as more time for the recess period. I especially enjoy supporting student initiatives and participating in extracurricular events in which students showcase their talents in sports, clubs and organizations. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to accompany seniors from the class of 2021 on their Kairos spiritual retreat, which was truly a transformational experience.

I find great joy working closely with Proyecto students and have been a Proyecto teacher for 7th grade students as well as a tutor in our Saturday academic program for prospective students. The program is for talented students from the public school system in the metropolitan area in Puerto Rico who are admitted in San Ignacio in seventh grade. Proyecto is at the heart of our commitment to social justice. It has been very rewarding to see San Ignacio alumni who were part of this program and are now surgeons, artists and accomplished professionals making a difference in their communities and who come back to San Ignacio as donors for other students in the program.

What are some of the lights and shadows you’ve experienced as a woman working in partnership with a men’s religious order?
Lights: Jesuits are men with a clear vision and mission committed to their apostolate. Partnering with Jesuits in the mission of evangelizing through education has led to my spiritual growth and understanding of the divine dimension to my vocation as an educator.

Shadows: I have sometimes been the only woman of color or only woman “at the table.” I acknowledge the tension between feeling underrepresented and of embracing the opportunity of “being at the table” to assert my voice as a woman who is an Ignatian collaborator committed to advancing a common mission.

How does Ignatian spirituality shape your approach to work?
Ignatian spirituality has shaped my life in many ways. Prior to my arrival to Colegio San Ignacio, my exposure to Jesuits was through spiritual retreats in Manresa. When I turned 21, I prepared to receive the sacrament of Communion in the Manresa Chapel after a spiritual retreat. I have been a practicing Catholic ever since. The Ignatian commitment to serving others was part of my experiences studying abroad in Chile when I volunteered in one of Father Alberto Hurtado’s Hogar de Cristo centers in Santiago. These first experiences introduced me to Ignatius’ teachings as a way of life.

I have served as a school principal at Colegio San Ignacio for the past five years. During this time, I have learned a way of proceeding through Ignatian spirituality and contemplative leadership in action. From the Jesuits, I have learned new dimensions to being a reflective practitioner through the examen (“pausa ignaciana“). The Ignatian discernment enables me to approach my responsibilities motivated by the greater good. God’s invitation in Ignatius’ words “to love and serve others” helps me address daily challenges understanding that I serve a greater mission. I see myself as an active collaborator in the mission to evangelize through educating leaders committed to build a more compassionate and just world for the greater glory of God.

What’s one of your favorite quotes about leadership or the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
“Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you.” –Ignatius of Loyola