The Institute on the Common Good was established in 1998 by former Regis University President Father Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., based on his conviction that important issues can be resolved and societal changes can occur if people gather together and speak honestly with one another. His conviction comes from the heart of Catholic social teaching, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and his own experiences with the power of dialogue between people who come to the table with diverse perspectives to engage one another around civic and social issues.
While working for America, a Jesuit Catholic weekly magazine, Father Sheeran was on hand when the New York president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the head of the local chapter of the Urban League, the New York area vice president of General Motors, and other business and labor leaders met in a conference room at the magazine’s New York City offices. It was the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the groups were suspicious of one another. But after informal conversation in that neutral, safe location, they were able to create a set of priorities that helped convince Civil Rights leaders that New York business and labor leaders were committed to working together. Later that year when Newark, New Jersey, erupted in flames in response to labor and race disputes, New York City did not.
Twenty years later, Father Sheeran again saw how bringing people together could make a real difference. In 1993, he hosted the first meeting between Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton when World Youth Day took place in Denver. These two world leaders had divergent opinions on an array of issues, including abortion, economic policies and the obligations of industrialized nations toward poor nations. He expected their private conversation would be brief, but instead they conversed for 90 minutes and developed a way the Vatican could serve as a channel for providing U.S. relief into Muslsim countries when needed. They also explored how the Pope could nudge the Croatians, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic, toward peace in the former Yugoslavia. While at Regis University, the pope and the president found common ground and were able to make significant strides in resolving two international problems.
From these and other experiences, Father Sheeran began to develop the idea of inviting people of diverse viewpoints to Regis University where they would find a neutral environment to discuss issues of great social import. During the 1997
-98 academic year, he appointed Father Richard Dunphy, S.J., as the Institute’s first director. Under Father Dunphy’s direction, programming began the next year. In 2001, Dr. Paul Alexander, director of the Master of Nonprofit Management Master’s degree at Regis University, took over as director, a role he continues today.
Much of the work accomplished by the Institute in the last decade has been behind the scenes by design, giving ownership to the stakeholders and members of the community who met with one another under the guidance of Institute staff to resolve a range of issues. The Institute on the Common Good has helped facilitated dialogues that resulted in understanding and change on homelessness in the Capitol Hills Neighborhood of Denver, health care, immigration issues in the city and peer mediation programs in the Denver Public Schools. One of our first successes came in 1999, when the Institute facilitated a private forum on criminal justice for the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on Domestic Policy, the results of which were included in the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice.
Perhaps our most visible work comes from the internationally known speakers we invite to the Regis University campus, most notably Nobel Peace Prize recipients. One of the first guests of the Institute was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in November 1998, following in the footsteps of Betty Williams of Northern Ireland, who became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to speak on the Regis University campus, and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet.
Since 1998, we have upheld this tradition and continue to invite Nobel Peace Laureates and other influential speakers to visit the Denver community. We welcomed, among others, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel in 2001, former President of Poland Lech Walesa in 2003, and most recently, David Trimble of Northern Ireland in 2006. Altogether, 13 Nobel Peace Prize recipients have visited Regis University since 1996.
We invite others to speak as well, with the intention that the intellectual discourse and emotional response to the talks will find an outlet through further conversations and dialogue among the participants.
Our logo is formed by the union of the letters ICG. The C and G combine to form a Mandorla or “Vesica Piscis,” which is an ancient symbol of two circles coming together, symbolizing the interactions and interdependence of opposing worlds and forces. A flame tops the letter I, forming a torch to symbolize the new learning, wisdom and knowledge that emerge from the work of the Institute.