The Society of Jesus began, appropriately enough, with a bunch of college students living far from home.
During the 1530s, Ignatius of Loyola gathered up a small band of fellow students at the University of Paris. They called themselves “amigos in el Senor,” Friends in the Lord. The companions took vows of poverty and pledged to stay together and keep serving Christ and the world, after earning their degrees.
A little over a decade later, the first Jesuit school opened, in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Today, 3,730 schools carry on this tradition all around the world, caring for 2.5 million students in places ranging from Egypt and Kenya to Nepal and Belize. In the United States there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities, along with 50 high schools that carry this banner.
One distinctive aspect of Jesuit education at all levels is the emphasis on teaching “the whole person” — mind, body, and spirit.
The schools foster not only intellectual development, but also moral and spiritual growth. At the high schools, the aim is to produce students who are “open to growth, intellectually competent, religious, loving, and committed to doing justice,” by the time they leave. Those are five characteristics pinpointed by the periodically updated Profile of the Graduate of a Jesuit High School at Graduation, better known as the “Grad at Grad” report.
Men and Women for Others
Service and justice are key priorities of Jesuit education. Pedro Arrupe, a beloved Superior General of the Jesuits (from 1965 to 1983), said the principle objective of Jesuit education is to form “men and women for others, men and women who will not live for themselves but for God and his Christ … men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.”
In recent decades, Jesuits have broadened this mission in part by reaching out to high school students in urban America. Dozens of these schools — either sponsored by the order or otherwise modeled on Jesuit education — have been started around the country. Geared toward students in high-poverty neighborhoods, the schools offer high-quality education and charge little or no tuition. Their graduates go on to selective colleges — ready to serve and develop their full potential.
And so, these and other Jesuit-related schools reflect a contemporary Jesuit mission: advancing the faith through the promotion of justice.
Since St. Ignatius bought a printing press in 1556, the Jesuits have been involved in communications. Today the Society of Jesus publishes a number of award-winning journals and publications. Click below to access our latest issues.