Jesuit Educational Tradition

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Jesuit Educational Tradition

Inspired and Shaped by the Spiritual Exercises

The Jesuit college of LaFlèche is where was planted the first seeds of all my later accomplishments and for which I am eternally grateful to the Society of Jesus
(René Descartes)

The Educational Legacy of Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556)

St Ignatius
Why is Ignatius Loyola placed with educators from Socrates to Dewey as one of the world's great innovators of education? After his famous conversion at Manresa, Ignatius gathered around him an energetic band of well-educated men who desired nothing more than to help others find God in their lives. It was Ignatius' original plan that they be roving missionaries like Francis Xavier who would preach and administer the sacraments wherever there was the hope of accomplishing the greater good. When, however, hundreds of young men joined his new religious order Ignatius had to provide for their education. He started schools for them but also admitted non-Jesuit students at a time when theology rarely got beyond the seminaries. It soon became clear to Ignatius that these schools offered the greatest possible service to the church, by moral and religious instruction, by making devotional life accessible to the young and by teaching the Gospel message of service to others. Ignatius quickly realized how critical changes in a whole society could come through education, so he made a momentous decision, revised his original plan and became an enthusiastic champion of systematic education.

There have been many changes in Jesuit education:
Some more fundamental than others

From the very beginning these Jesuit schools became such an influential exponent of Catholic reform that this novel Jesuit enterprise was later called "a rebirth of the infant church".

But this would hardly convince institutions from the Sorbonne to Columbia University to engrave "Loyola" on their walls. So again, what was his particular contribution to education? Ignatius realized that education was not an end in itself but rather a means to lead the student to care about other human beings. The genius and innovation he brought to education came from his Spiritual Exercises whose object is to free a person from predispositions and biases, thus enabling one to make free choices. These Exercises are based on the premise that people who are free enough to say reality is good will recognize their own goodness and will live happy and fulfilled lives. The goals of Jesuit education have always been to offer this means to become a person of choice, thus inviting students to be more concerned about their fellow human beings. The most direct way to help the young is to help them find God.

Ignatius infused this goal into the existing pattern of humanistic education which included appreciation of the arts to appreciate beauty, grammar to learn how to read, rhetoric to express oneself, mathematics to enable one to think and theology (with its handmaiden philosophy) to find God. He then fashioned these into an orderly process. The norms of instruction, known as the Ratio Studiorum , were soon formulated by his successors.

The first Jesuit College - in Coimbra, Portugal

This plan of studies established certain basic characteristics for the Jesuit program which included a respect for the varying capacities of students.

This order was quite different from the confusion Ignatius as a student had experienced at Alcalá and the chaos of the contemporary schools with optional courses and infrequent classes. The organizational genius of Ignatius and his followers, focusing on the individual, stabilized classical studies and gave them a popularity which even Erasmus was not able to achieve.

During the last nine years of his life, Ignatius opened 33 schools. Within a century 300 Jesuit colleges dotted Catholic Europe in "one of the great extensions and consolidations of Renaissance humanism". His innovations were perpetuated by his followers so that two centuries later Jesuits operated 740 Jesuit schools (survivors of over a thousand which had been started) and taught in eleven other state schools. Jesuits were called the schoolmasters of Europe during these centuries, not only because of their schools but also for their pre-eminence as scholars and for the thousands of textbooks they composed. Christopher Clavius, S.J., for example, whom Descartes and Leibniz acknowledged as a source of their inspiration, wrote a standard geometry text used throughout Europe.

Today there is an extensive network of Jesuit schools educating one and a half million students. There are 90 Jesuit colleges in 27 countries. Here in the United States the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities have over a million living graduates. There are also 430 Jesuit high schools in 55 countries. In these schools the Ignatian system of values has attracted exceptionally competent faculty as well as highly qualified students. They form a Jesuit network, not that they are administered in the same way, but that they pursue the same goals.

Ignatius writing the Spiritual Exercises Jesuit College graduates are expected to have made mature commitments to values and should have acquired the self-discipline to live by these values. They should tolerate diversity of perspective and have a critical respect for their own cultural tradition. They should have developed competence in the skills of analysis, judgment and expression. They should be aware of their interdependence with their fellow men and women.

The father / husband of the two women murdered with the Jesuits by the El Salvador military is consoled now by the rose garden he keeps in their memory.

  They should know that theirs is a privileged position in a world where most people are poor and oppressed by the conditions they live in. They should be "men and women for others", that is, the good things both material and spiritual which they want for themselves they should want for others too. They should be able to see in their own lives signs of a transcendent life and means of access to it.

Jesuit education, which began in 1547, is still committed today to the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.

Because of this fact Jesuit educators have been a thorn in the side of tyrants for more than four centuries. One recent example is the murder in 1989 by the El Salvador military of the six university Jesuits who were determined to promote justice and to spread the Ignatian vision, teaching love and concern for others, especially for the poor and those whom the unjust structures of society keep oppressed and destitute. This is, after all, the obligation of all educated, mature human beings. One grasps this concept from the animating source of the founders of all Jesuit schools which is the Spiritual Exercises handed down from Ignatius of Loyola.

Jesuit history, tradition and spirituality

GOSPEL ILLUSTRATIONSCompositions of place for the Exercises
Joan of Arc: Insignis* {*outstandingfollower of Christ}

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