Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, Julie Sullivan, Fr. Tom Smolich, Agnieszka Winkler, Fr. Luis Calero, Ashley Sonsini, Larry Sonsini

Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, Julie Sullivan, Fr. Tom Smolich, Agnieszka Winkler, Fr. Luis Calero, Ashley Sonsini, Larry Sonsini

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Mar 19, 2024—A delegation of leaders from Santa Clara University (SCU) and its Jesuit School of Theology (JST) are visiting Rome March 17-19  to meet with various senior Vatican leaders and leaders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).  

The purpose of the delegation’s visit is to deepen ties and engage in wide-ranging discussions on global Jesuit higher education; the ethical use of artificial intelligence; advancing a synodal Church; and meeting the needs of the changing Catholic Church through theological education and formation. 

On Monday,  the delegation discussed with Vatican leaders the importance of the ethical and responsible use of AI for the betterment of humanity, which was the theme of the pope’s recent World Day of Peace, and is an area of intense focus within Santa Clara’s new seven-year strategic plan, “Impact 2030” and across the Silicon Valley-based campus.

Also on Monday morning, March 18, University President Julie Sullivan had a private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis.  

During this meeting, Pope Francis shared a red hardbound copy of his 2018 apostolic exhortation, “Gaudate et Exsultate, on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” with Sullivan. The publication contained a passage, which the two of them discussed, about joy and humor. Pope Francis “is an extremely joyful person who exudes an extraordinary light and magnetic human connection,” said Sullivan. “I came away feeling so uplifted by who he is as a person and the way the Holy Spirit powerfully radiates from him,” she added. 

Pope Francis also signed a copy of Impact 2030, joking he will “sign anything that is not a check.” He urged President Sullivan to continue Santa Clara’s focus on educating the entirety of each student. “He’s very expressive,” Sullivan said of Pope Francis. “He was touching his head, his heart, and his hands. And he said often education is about filling the head. And it really needs to be about finding harmony between the head, the heart, and the hands,” she said. 

AI and Education at the Forefront

On Monday, the delegation met with Vatican leaders including Cardinal José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, Bishop Paul Tighe, and Antonio Spadaro, S.J., of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education. Dicastery leaders sought Santa Clara’s insight and partnership for initiatives to better equip K-12 Catholic school educators with AI literacy guidelines, and to convene thought leaders to explore the ethical and humanistic dimensions of AI.

They also met with Cardinal Mario Grech of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., the head of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. The meetings covered topics such as how to be a synodal Church in mission; five principles to advance a synodal Church;  and how Santa Clara University can serve as a strategic partner to help meet the needs of the changing face of the Catholic Church. They also explored opportunities for Santa Clara to help the Dicastery for Integral Human Development provide greater service to bishops in areas including pastoral theology and Catholic social teaching. 

The delegation discussed programming underway at Santa Clara’s Jesuit School of Theology to advance the goals of Pope Francis’s two-part Synod on Synodality. During this year between two Rome-based synod gatherings,  JST is hosting, in collaboration with partners such as SCU’s Division of Mission and Ministry, Synodal Journey,” a programmatic series featuring speakers and events to invite deep and meaningful discussions on key themes from the Synod. The delegation invited Cardinal Grech to be the keynote speaker at Synodal Journey Spring 2025 conference. 

Meeting with Jesuit Leaders Tuesday 

On Tuesday, the delegation is expected to further explore the vision in Impact 2030 for Santa Clara to become a University that better serves the world.  That includes consideration now underway for a Global Theological Initiative, to explore how Jesuit theologates can form future leaders in a more globally experiential way, responsive to the needs of the changing Catholic Church in regions like Africa, Asia, and South America. 

The SCU delegation included: 

  • Santa Clara University President Julie Sullivan
  • JST Dean Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J.
  • Incoming rector of the JST-SCU Jesuit Community Thomas Smolich, S.J.
  • SCU Board member and Chair of JST Board of Directors Agnieszka Winkler
  • Rector of the Santa Clara Jesuit Community Luis Calero, S.J.
  • SCU Board of Trustees Chair Larry Sonsini and his wife Ashley Sonsini

On Mar. 19, the SCU delegation is slated to meet with leaders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) including 

  • Fr. General Arturo Sosa, S.J.
  • Douglas Marcouiller, S.J., general counselor and regional assistant for the USA Assistancy at the Jesuit Curia in Rome
  • Joseph Christie Pushparaj, S.J., secretary to Fr. General for Higher Education 
  • Mark Ravizza, S.J., assistant to Fr. General for Formation.

About Santa Clara University
Founded in 1851, Santa Clara University sits in the heart of Silicon Valley—the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial region. The University’s stunningly landscaped 106-acre campus is home to the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asís. Ranked among the top 15 percent of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, SCU has among the best four-year graduation rates in the nation and is rated by PayScale in the top 1 percent of universities with the highest-paid graduates. SCU has produced elite levels of Fulbright Scholars as well as four Rhodes Scholars. With undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, and graduate programs in six disciplines, the curriculum blends high-tech innovation with social consciousness grounded in the tradition of Jesuit, Catholic education.  For more information see 

Media Contacts
Deepa Arora | SCU Media Communications | | 

Preston Carmack | JST Marketing and Communications |