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Gail Jennings reflects on changes and on the growth in 26 years at Gonzaga

Working from the years of electric typewriters with a correction key into the computer age, Gail Jennings has seen changes on campus and in students in her 26 years of working in the office of Gonzaga University’s Religious Studies Department. 

Gail Jennings
Gail Jennings retires from work in Religious Studies office.

Along with increased student enrollment and new buildings, she has observed growth in the students’ openness and understanding of diverse people.

“If these young people remain in churches as they grow, any discrimination or bias will be gone,” she said.

Her days have been filled with interaction with students.

Because all students are required to take three courses in religious studies—Scriptures, systematic theology and applied theology—many students, along with the 20 religious studies majors, have come to apply for classes, change classes or turn in papers and tests. 

In her role at Gonzaga’s Religious Studies Department, she has also overseen administrative tasks for the master of arts in religious studies, the master of pastoral ministries, the spiritual directors training and religious studies requirements for undergraduates.

She has become close to some who have been work-study students with her.  Befriending some African women studying at Gonzaga, she has also learned about their struggles at home and on campus.

Many students come to her as they would to a mother or grandmother, confiding in informal conversations about problems with roommates, relationships, parents or home situations.

She retired at the end of December, but will be available to help a new person serve in the role of senior faculty assistant.

Gail Jennings
Gail Jennings of Religious Studies Department, Gonzaga Univrsity

Gail, who grew up Catholic in Butte, Mont., came to Spokane and studied two years at Gonzaga University because she had relatives here.  She returned to Montana and worked 23 years in administrative and secretarial work while rearing two children, Tom and Molly.  She met her husband, Jack, when he was campus pastor at Montana State University in Bozeman.

They moved here in 1983 with no jobs.  In three weeks, she had the job at Gonzaga Religious Studies.  Soon Jack began working part-time pastor at Mission Community Presbyterian Church along with having a full-time secular job.  He later served as an adjunct instructor in religious studies.  They now attend Manito Presbyterian Church.

With the encouragement of faculty, she finished her bachelor’s degree in history in 1989 and earned her Washington state teachers certificate in 1990.

Gail has seen the religious studies program expand and offer new courses as the university has grown from an entering class of nearly 600 when she started to an entering class of 1,240 in 2009.

With the popularity of basketball, Zag fans Gail and Jack now prefer to watch games on TV rather than stand in line at 3 a.m. for tickets.

“Basketball has put Gonzaga on the map,” she said.  “So has interest in Bing Crosby.  Many people come to the Crosbyana Room at the Crosby Center to see memorabilia of the alum.”

There has been extensive building on campus, expanding to the East and West with classroom buildings and new apartments.

“There have been amazing changes, and it has been fun to be a part of it,” Gail said.  “It has been quite a journey.”

Course offerings have changed to meet new interests.

In tune with a freshman emphasis on healthy eating, Pat McCormick offered a course on “The Ethics of Eating.”  Ron Large’s class on “The Morality of the Vietnam War” is consistently full.

The core curriculum requirements for all students remains at one 100 class in Scriptures, a 200-level course in systematic theology and a 300-level class in applied theology, like the eating and Vietnam options and Christian morality and Christian marriage.

Gail appreciates the quality of education the department offers and its publishing of many scholarly books.

Joy Milos’ class on Christian Diversity brings speakers from other faith traditions and encourages students to attend services of other churches or faiths.

 “Students today are more understanding of the world.  They are more aware of and more accepting of people of other cultures, religious traditions and sexual orientations.  Their eyes are opened in courses.  They meet people and hear speakers from other countries,” she said.

Her participation in formal and informal discussions and lectures has also broadened her faith and perspectives.

“With the information age, students are wiser and have more technological knowledge,” she said.  “With doing more on the computer and less on paper, however, we have lost the personal touch of phone calls or visits, but we may be in touch more often.”

Gail believes the service-learning courses that require students to spend 20 hours in the community, have opened their commitment to volunteering.

“It instills a sense of volunteerism in students,” she said.

Gail has also been involved in the community and on campus.

In the community, Gonzaga gave her time to work six years on the city’s Human Services Board.

On campus in 1995, she was one of the founding members of Gonzaga’s Staff Assembly, where 700 staff meet to voice their concerns—as students do through the Student Body Assembly and faculty do through the Faculty Senate.  It has been a channel for staff to make such changes as instilling ways to recognize staff members and selecting a liaison to meet regularly with the president.

Staff members hold lunches, breakfasts and a summer picnic; hear speakers, and work to improve working conditions, so they can live Gonzaga’s mission to offer higher education within the Jesuit tradition that engages the entire university community.

She has also served as a staff representative to the Board of Regents and on the Staff Assembly Executive Council.

Gail enters retirement seeing it as a new journey of faith, open to what is next in volunteer work or part time jobs.  She’ll be helping orient the new staff person.  She will begin by reading one of the books written by faculty, Introduction to the Bible by Patrick Hardin and Rob Kugler. 


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