Strategic Plan: What it is and What it means

Interview with Professor Francesco Cesareo, External consultant for the formulation of the Strategic Plan

Paolo Pegoraro | Editorial Director

by Paolo Pegoraro

Editorial Director

The Strategic Plan is the result of a comprehensive consultative process
involving the definition of priorities and objectives. We discussed this 
with Professor Cesareo, the external consultant who collaborated 
with the Gregorian University on this complex project. 
The Strategic Plan is a great opportunity: rooted in the Ignatian tradition,
yet aware of the changes underway. 

Following the visit of AVEPRO - the Holy See’s Agency for the Evaluation and Promotion of Quality in Ecclesiastical Faculties - and the presentation of its Report, the Pontifical Gregorian University has moved on to the next stage which involves the definition of its Strategic Plan, identifying the general priorities and specific objectives to be achieved over the next five years. Professor Francesco Cesareo, former Rector of the University of the Assumption (Massachusetts, USA), with 15 years of experience in this field, was appointed as an external consultant to assist with this complex planning process. During his visits to the Gregoriana, Professor Cesareo participated in several meetings to determine the key priorities, and consulted with various members of our academic community. “This is a time of great opportunity for the University,” said Prof. Cesareo, “and it is also the time to imagine the Gregoriana in a new way: always rooted in the Ignatian tradition, with its distinctive vision and mission, but with an awareness of the changes taking place in the academic world.” 


The Strategic Plan is a challenging, ongoing process. How should it be understood?

“The Strategic Plan is a comprehensive plan that sets the direction for the University as a whole, designed to be implemented in each academic unit and by its various members. Each academic and administrative unit is expected to explore ways in which the four comprehensive priorities identified can be put into practice in the respective areas of activity. Although specific, the Strategic Plan is not prescriptive - that is, it is not a rigid structure. It’s a dynamic document, and there will be many opportunities for envisioning its best execution. It will have to be developed further, including during its implementation phase.”



This is not the first Strategic Plan developed by the Gregoriana. Would it be fair to say that it has a different format compared to the previous ones?

“In my opinion, this Plan is characterised by greater involvement and communication. The development of its format must be the fruit of cooperation, so that it may not be perceived as something imposed from above, but rather as the result of a joint effort. More than forty meetings were held at various levels, and various collegial and private bodies were consulted. I am very pleased with the degree of participation, not only on the part of the working groups, but also from the many collaborators whom I met with. Often people just want their ideas to be heard, even though not everything can be included in the plan. This means that every member of the University must be given the opportunity to express their opinion, suggestions, ideas and experiences in their respective academic disciplines. If everyone is encouraged to participate, it will not only benefit the development of the Strategic Plan, but also improve its implementation in each sector. Here at the Gregoriana, everyone has a role to play for the University’s improvement.”


Change can be a source of both excitement and anxiety. What have you noticed? 
“There is widespread enthusiasm, a desire to improve the Gregorian University, aware of its rich cultural heritage and that it could be better shared with the outside world. The student population is changing, the number of Jesuits is on the decline: it is clear that changes must be made for the future of the University. At the same time, however, I see a certain degree of scepticism. In the first place, there is scepticism about the possibility of concrete changes taking place. And secondly, with regard to the importance of preserving the Jesuit spirit and the Ignatian charism that are the guiding pillars of the university.”

You have worked on three Strategic Plans for Catholic universities. Which challenges could arise?
“At the end of the 1960s, a number of religious congregations that had founded Catholic universities in the United States withdrew from their governance and placed them under the management of governing boards. Although they remained the sponsors of these universities, they no longer exercised authority over them. In my view, there are lessons to be learnt from these experiences in order to avoid their reoccurrence. If a university is ‘Catholic’ in name only, why continue?

But this University is based in Rome, within a very different context. The Gregoriana is a university of the Holy See, entrusted to the Society of Jesus. The most likely challenge is to seek different and shared ways of living out the reality of its identity and mission in the face of the many changes that have taken place.”

Indeed, the Gregoriana has a unique historical and symbolic heritage. Is it a heavy anchor or is it a telescope to scan the horizon?
“For an institution to exist also in the future, it must be able to change, and indeed the Jesuits have changed during the past 500 years, as has the Roman College. If not, it will become a celebrated museum, but one unable to influence students, society and ultimately the Church. The present must comprehend the past, and the past must influence the future, without slavishly reproducing it. Renewal means recognising that the most important elements - identity and charism - can be concretised in a new and improved manner.

The richness of the Gregoriana lies in its world view, rooted in a perspective of faith that is open to encounter. It brings faith - and the questions that it raises - into the wider debates of the world. Society needs this now more than ever. Without a university like the Gregoriana, capable of forming the person intellectually and spiritually to a dialoguing faith, the entire academic world would be poorer. That is why it is very important to preserve the charism, not only in theory, but also by giving it renewed topical relevance.” 

The Gregoriana is in the process of integrating the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Pontifical Biblical Institute. How does the Strategic Plan relate to this additional development?
“Integration is also a time of transformation... how do we imagine the ‘new Gregoriana’? Before getting married, a couple is independent, but then they become a new reality, and their child resembles the mother in some aspects and the father in others, but he/she is undoubtedly the offspring of both. The same thing happens with the integration of institutions: what is good and important is preserved, while what is no longer necessary is discarded. It is a time for reflection, to incorporate our wealth of knowledge, experience and identity in order to create a ‘new Gregoriana’ that is stronger and better than before. The Strategic Plan is a dynamic document, and as this integration takes place, the Strategic Plan will also need to be reviewed.”

How is the Strategic Plan structured in practice?
The plan has identified four priority areas, which can be considered as ‘macro areas’. I have been involved in much more elaborate plans in the past, but this one is extremely coherent and realistic. It recognises that the academic milieu has changed along with university education. It focuses on this new understanding with a view to providing students with an intellectual formation for their future service to the Church and to society.”

There are a number of specific Objectives (25 in total) to be achieved in order to implement the General Priorities. Each objective is accompanied by an Action Plan. How will they be implemented?
“The organisational chart I proposed to the Rector includes the creation of small groups tasked with implementing the Objectives. These groups will then be responsible for reflecting on the Objectives and Action Plans, discussing their implementation and recommending to the various University departments the best course of action to achieve each Objective. It is therefore a collaborative process that cannot depend on the goodwill of a few.”

A considerable proportion of the University community will therefore be involved....
“Naturally, although the members of these groups are members of the University whose experience can be a valuable asset to discussions on the Objectives’ achievement. For example, as for Priority n°1, regarding academic programmes, the groups will be composed mainly of faculty members. For Priority n°. 3, concerning the growth and diversification of revenue, the groups will include staff from the Bursar's Office and other departments. Each Objective and its Action Plan will have a coordinator in charge of forming the groups and monitoring the progress of the activities.”