A Pocket Guide to Jesuit Education
why were jesuit schools so successful?
The simple answer is that they met a need. Europe entered the modern world almost overnight in the early 16th century. The voyages of exploration to the Americas and the Indies, the Protestant revolt, and Gutenberg's printing press changed people's understanding of the globe, redistributed wealth, and turned Europe into a battleground of ideas. A prosperous middle class wanted an education that would prepare their sons for the opportunities of this new world that was unfolding around them at a dizzying pace.
When Jesuits began their schools, two models were available. One was the medieval university, where students prepared for professions such as law, the clergy, and teaching by studying the sciences, mathematics, logic, philosophy, and theology. The other model was the Renaissance humanistic academy, which had a curriculum based on Greek and Latin poetry, drama, oratory, and history. The goal of the university was the training of the mind through the pursuit of speculative truth; the goal of the humanists was character formation, making students better human beings and civic leaders. Jesuit schools were unique in combining these two educational ideals.
Perhaps the most important reason for the success of the early Jesuit schools was a set of qualities that Jesuits aspired to themselves and which they consciously set out to develop in their students:
- Self-knowledge and discipline,
- Attentiveness to their own experience and to others',
- Trust in God's direction of their lives,
- Respect for intellect and reason as tools for discovering truth,
- Skill in discerning the right course of action,
- A conviction that talents and knowledge were gifts to be used to help others,
- Flexibility and pragmatism in problem solving,
- Large-hearted ambition, and
- A desire to find God working in all things.
These qualities were the product of the distinctive spirituality that the early Jesuits had learned from Ignatius and that Ignatius had learned from his own experience. Jesuits hoped, in turn, to form their students in the same spiritual vision, so that their graduates would be prepared to live meaningful lives as leaders in government, the professions, and the Church.