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Education, Jesuit
Ignatius of Loyola* and his first companions, who founded the Society of Jesus* in 1540, did not originally intend to establish schools. But before long they were led to start colleges for the education of the young men who flocked to join their religious order.* And in 1547 Ignatius was asked to open a school for young lay* men. By the time of his death (1556), there were 35 such colleges (comprising today’s secondary school and the first year or two of college). By the time the order was suppressed in 1773, the number had grown to over 800–all part of a system of integrated humanistic education that was international and brought together in a common enterprise men, from various languages and cultures. These Jesuits* were distinguished mathematicians, astronomers, and physicists; linguists and dramatists; painters and architects; philosophers and theologians; even what today would be called cultural anthropologists. These developments are not surprising; the orders founders were all University of Paris graduates, and Ignatius’ spirituality* taught Jesuits to search for God “in all things.” After the order was restored (1814), however, Jesuit schools and scholars in Europe never regained the prominence they had had. Besides, they were largely involved in the resistance to modern thought and culture that characterized Catholic intellectual life through the 19th century and beyond. In other parts of the world, especially in the United States, the 19th century saw a new birth of Jesuit education. Twenty-one of today’s 28 U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities were founded during that century. These schools served the needs of an immigrant people, enabling them to move up in the world while maintaining their Catholic belief and practice in a frequently hostile Protestant environment. After World War II, U.S. Jesuit higher education (as American higher education generally) experienced enormous growth and democratization under the G.I. Bill. Significantly, this growth entailed a shift from a largely Jesuit faculty to one made up increasingly of lay men (and more recently women). Further, Vatican Council II* (1962-65) released a great burst of energy in the Catholic church and Jesuit order for engagement with the modern world, including its intellectual life. Finally, Jesuit schools in the ’70s and ’80’s moved to professionalize through the hiring of new faculty with highly specialized training and terminal degrees from the best graduate schools. These sweeping changes of the last 50 years have brought U.S. Jesuit schools to the present situation where they face crucial questions. Will so-called Jesuit institutions of higher education simply merge with mainstream American academe and thereby lose any distinctiveness and reason for existing–or will they have the creativity to become more distinctive? While taking the best from American education and culture, will they still offer an alternative in the spirit of their Jesuit heritage? Will they foster the integration of knowledge-or will specialization reign alone and the fragmentation of knowledge continue? Will they relate learning to the Transcendent, to God–or will spiritual* experience be allowed to disappear from consideration except in isolated departments of theology? While developing the mind, surely, will they also develop a global, cross-cultural imagination and a compassionate heart to recognize and work for the common good, especially for bettering the lot of the poor and voiceless [see “Men and Women for Others”* and “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice”*]–or will the dominant values present in them be self-interest and the “bottom line”?

A modern theological concept that expresses a principle of Christian mission implicit in Ignatian* spirituality*–namely, that the gospel* needs to be presented to any given culture in terms intelligible to that culture and allowed to grow up in the “soil” of that culture; God is already present and active there (“God’s action is antecedent to ours”–Jesuit General Congregation 34 (1995), “Our Mission and Culture”).

Thus in the first century St. Paul fought against the imposition of Jewish practices on non-Jewish Christians. And in the 16th and 17th centuries, Jesuits like Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656) fought to retain elements of Chinese and Indian culture in presenting a deEuropeanized Christianity to those people, only to have their approach condemned by the Church in the 18th.

Ideally, the gospel* and a culture mutually interact, and in the process the gospel embraces some elements of the culture while offering a critique of others.