The Cerritos College Foundation announced Wednesday it has received a $1 million gift to establish an endowment for a scholar of the ancient Indian religion Jainism, which practices nonviolence, concern for the environment, spirituality and meditation.

“We want as many people as possible to be exposed to this philosophy — ideas which were promoted by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and many conscientious others who solved the great problems of the day with nonviolent approaches,” said Dr. Jasvant Modi, a prominent Jain philanthropist and a donor to the endowment along with his wife, Dr. Meera Modi, and the philanthropists Harshad and Raksha Shah.

The foundation selected English as a second language professor Lee Anne McIlroy as the 2021 Bhagavan Kunthunath Endowed Scholar of Jain Thought Leadership. The chair is named for the ancient spiritual teacher who Jains believe conquered death and lived for 15,000 years.

McIlroy has an extensive background in Jainism, having been introduced to the philosophy when she was 8 by her father. In 2017, she adopted the five Jainist vows and said she tries to use them in her daily life.

The endowment is the first Jain chair at a United States community college, according to Carol Krumbach, the foundation’s executive director.

Part of the gift will be used to establish an annual Jain conference on various aspects of the religion, as well as other Jainist programming reflecting the principles of the religion, Krumbach said.

Jains pursue a spiritual journey towards Moksha, the state of complete liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Jainism and Buddhism share many features, terminology and ethical principles.

There is a large Indian population in the Cerritos area and the college maintains a relationship with that community, Krumbach said.

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