This page is dedicated to providing even more information about how Jesuits have been at the forefront of academic excellence and how this educational philosophy has impacted the world for centuries and Brebeuf students for the last fifty years.
Ignatius decided that to serve God effectively he needed an education. This quest brought him to the University of Paris, where he became the center of a group of friends. Using his spiritual exercises, he challenged them to think about how they were going to use the unique gifts and personalities God had given them. After receiving their degrees, they decided they would stay together as a group and “help people” as Jesus and his disciples did. Gradually, they came to the decision to form a new kind of religious order. They were ordained Catholic priests and, in 1540, they received the approval of the Pope and called themselves “The Society of Jesus.” Later, critics derisively called them “Jesuits” and this is the name that has stuck.
How did Jesuits get involved in schools?
At first, no single activity defined the new religious order. The early Jesuits preached in the streets, led men and women through the Spiritual Exercises, taught theology in universities, instructed children in the catechism, and cared for plague victims and prostitutes. Others went off to work in distant parts of the world, as Francis Xavier did in India. They were discovering their mission by doing it, adapting to change, taking risks, and learning by trial and error.
Nonetheless, the early companions were all graduates of the best university of Europe and they thought of themselves as specialists in “ministries of the word.” Gradually, they came to realize that there was one emerging activity that connected their intellectual training, their world-affirming spirituality, their pastoral experience, and their goal of helping souls. When citizens of Messina asked Ignatius to open a school for their sons, he seems to have decided that schools could be a powerful means of forming the minds and hearts of those, who, because they would be important citizens in their communities, could influence many others. When the college in Messina proved a success, requests to open schools in other cities multiplied and soon education became the characteristic activity of Jesuits.
When Ignatius died in 1556 there were 35 Jesuit colleges across Europe. Two hundred years later, there were more than 800 in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. They constituted the largest system of education before the modern era of public schooling and the first truly international one.
Jesuit Education is a Process
How does this spiritual vision get translated into an educational vision? The early Jesuits struggled to describe what they called “our way of proceeding.” Their accounts varied but it seems that they thought of their distinctive spirituality as a three-part process. It begins with paying attention to experience, moves to reflecting on its meaning, and ends in deciding how to act. Jesuit education, then, can be described in terms of three key movements:
- Be Attentive
- Be Reflective
- Be Loving
The Habit of Discerning
Jesuit education, we have said, is a process that has three key parts, being attentive, being reflective, and being loving. It results in the kind of good decision-making that Ignatius called “discernment.” The goal of Jesuit education is to produce men and women for whom discernment is a habit.
Jesuit Education Today
In the United States, there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities and 52 high schools. The first of these was Georgetown, established in 1789. Boston College was the eleventh when it was founded in 1863. Around the world, there are more than 200 Jesuit secondary schools — including 93 in India alone — and some 100 institutions of higher education, along with numerous centers of social and cultural analysis. Jesuit education is still growing. In recent years, U.S. Jesuits and lay men and women have created 14 inner-city middle schools, along with five high schools modeled on Chicago’s Christo Rey School. Increasingly, all these institutions are staffed and administered by men and women who are not Jesuits and may not even be Catholic or Christian but who are animated by the vision of Jesuit education and the spirituality of Ignatius. Jesuit education continues to adapt old ideals to new times and new needs.