Jesuit Education, Ignatian Pedagogy, and the Faith That Does Justice

Roger Bergman

When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change.”

Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. (2000) The Society of Jesus is known for producing both master teachers and, in the second half of the sixteenth century, the world’s first school system. Although Ignatius of Loyola had no intention of becoming a “superintendent of schools” when he founded the order in 1540, by the time of his death in 1556 he was overseeing thirty-five schools; by the end of the century, when the famous Ratio Studiorum (or “plan of studies”) was published 1 , some two hundred forty-five schools for boys and young men had been founded. That number had increased to eight hundred forty-five in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa by the time of the American War for Independence. At the turn of the millennium, some two thousand schools for both boys and girls, men and women, were operating under Jesuit auspices in fifty-six countries worldwide, involving ten thousand Jesuits, nearly one hundred thousand lay collaborators, and more than a million and a half students.

From Fe y Alegría primary schools for the poor in Latin America, to the Nativity-model middle schools and the new Cristo Rey high schools for the disadvantaged in the U.S., to college preparatory high schools and colleges and universities throughout the Americas, the Jesuits are a vigorous force in education. Especially since its 32nd General Congregation in 1975, when the Society formally and famously named its mission as “the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement,” Jesuit education has become a vigorous force for education for justice.

The Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education
In 1999, to prepare for the twenty-fifth anniversary of that momentous decision, the presidents of three U.S. Jesuit universities called upon all twenty-eight such institutions to participate in local, regional, and national conversations on what had been done and learned in that quarter of a century of “The Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education.” Each school prepared a self-study for presentation at one of three conferences later that year. In 2000, all twenty-eight schools sent delegations to a national conference; follow-up meetings were held in 2002 and 2005, and another is planned for 2009. Undoubtedly the highlight of all these proceedings was the keynote address on October 6, 2000, at Santa Clara University by the Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Society of Jesus. But before examining that address, we should review its principal recent antecedent.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., is often referred to as the “second founder” of the Society of Jesus. His successor Fr. Kolvenbach wrote, “as the Jesuit General from 1965 to 1983, Father Arrupe led his brother Jesuits through a challenging period of renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council.” 2 Theologian Kevin Burke, S.J., expands on this by pointing out that “Arrupe’s personal concern for the poor and his visionary reading of the church’s social gospel fed his concern to renew the vitality of Christian discipleship around the intrinsic connection between faith and justice. This became the defining mark of his years as the General of the Society of Jesus.” 3

Arrupe’s commitment to the poor can be traced at least in part to a personal encounter he had as a young medical student in Madrid in the 1920s. Pedro had been raised in a comfortable if not wealthy family and was unfamiliar with destitution. But as a representative of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Pedro was sent to an impoverished area of the city. Late in the afternoon, he came upon a young boy eating a roll. When asked if he was enjoying his afternoon snack, the boy replied, “I’m having my breakfast.” Further conversation revealed that it was also his lunch and his dinner, as was usual.

 Thirty years later, that encounter remained etched on Fr. Arrupe’s memory. In the meantime, he had become, like his contemporary, Pope Paul VI, a globetrotter. As Fr. Burke points out, “the way other world travelers visit museums and tourist sites, Arrupe visited barrios, ghettos, and slums. But he never seemed to forget—even to the point of remembering the smile that froze on his face— encountering a child’s hunger for the first time.” 4 Fr. Arrupe saw action for justice and solidarity with the poor in profoundly biblical and Ignatian terms:
the external reality that we change then changes us in our very depths, and that very change makes us become “agents for change.” This interaction is a manifestation and an effect of the intimate action of the Holy Spirit, who integrates, simultaneously and harmonically, the progress of a pilgrim humanity toward its true homeland and my growth in divine life that the Spirit communicates to me. . . . A genuine insertion [into social reality] thus requires a change of personal attitude, the giving up, under many aspects, of our manner of being, thinking, and acting, so we can understand and come closer to the new realities that we want to evangelize. . . . This insertion or “incarnation” means solidarity with those who suffer, even to being identified with their lives. Here we find the most profound meaning of the poverty of the poor Christ, whom we want to imitate and follow. That phrase of the [Spiritual] Exercises [of St. Ignatius] that describes our contemplation—“as if I were actually present”—takes on a vivid meaning that reflects the Gospel words: “What you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Matt 25:40). . . . It is the apparition of Christ among the poor, his real presence among them. 5

Men and Women for Others
Given this gospel mandate as refracted through Ignatian spirituality and as affirmed in Catholic social teaching, is it any wonder that Fr. Arrupe would make the link to the primary ministry of the Society—that of education? He did so in an address to the alumni of Jesuit high schools in Valencia, Spain, on July 31, the Feast of St. Ignatius, 1973. The title of his remarks—“Men and Women for Others”—was subsequently adopted as the unofficial motto of many Jesuit institutions: The most frequently quoted lines are these:
Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ—for the God-human who lived and died for all the world; 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. 6

 Referring to various church teachings of the 1960s and 1970s, Arrupe notes that such statements “are the resonance of an imperious call of the living God asking his church and all persons of good will to adopt certain attitudes and undertake certain types of action which will enable them effectively to come to the aid of humankind oppressed and in agony.” 7 He described this mission as “the prolongation into the modern world of our humanist tradition as derived from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.” 8 Education for justice is not an add-on or an option: it is at the heart of Jesuit education and Ignatian pedagogy. Fr. Kolvenbach, in his 2000 Santa Clara address, brings that heritage to bear specifically on Jesuit universities in the United States.

The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education
Any coherent educational program must have an end in view and means by which to reach it. In his address, Fr. Kolvenbach defined the end of Jesuit higher education not primarily as the “‘worldly success’ based on marketable skills” of its graduates but rather “in who our students become.” 9 For four hundred fifty years that “who” has been defined as “the whole person,” which includes not only the intellectual and professional, but also the psychological, moral, and spiritual. But what that means for us is different from what it meant in previous periods of human history. If our students today are to be whole persons tomorrow, they “must have a well-educated solidarity.” Therefore “we must raise our Jesuit educational standard to educate the whole person of solidarity for the real world.” 10 But what does that solidarity look like?

The Virtue of Solidarity
Pope John Paul II has described solidarity as “undoubtedly a Christian virtue,” by which he means “not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.” 11 For Fr. Kolvenbach, solidarity means letting “the gritty reality of the world” into our lives. Our students should “learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively. They should learn to perceive, think, judge, choose, and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.” 12 The whole person—heart, mind, and conscience—is engaged in and by the world of the poor. That is the distinctive end, the goal of Jesuit education.

But “this does not make the university a training camp for social activists,” 13 by which I take Fr. Kolvenbach to mean that this vision of human solidarity must be integrated and infused into the full range of university programs and professional pathways. As Dean Brackley, S.J., puts it, “human beings are made to love, to help others. That is our deepest vocation.” 14 But even one person “can have many vocations. I can be a mechanic, an athlete, and a spouse, all at once.” 15 Or, as I like to say to my students, there is only one human Vocation, to love God and neighbor (including even our enemy), but there are many vocations, as many as there are unique human combinations of talents, interests, personalities, and circumstances.

Contact and Concepts
If a whole person of well-educated solidarity with the real world is the end of Jesuit education, what are the means? According to Fr. Kolvenbach, quoting John Paul II (and echoing Pedro Arrupe), “solidarity is learned through ‘contact’ rather than ‘concepts.’” 16 We learn solidarity not through ideas, theories, analyses, or statistics about the real world (not that those aren’t crucial in a later step), but by personal engagement and encounter with it. Fr. Kolvenbach observes that “when the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.” 17 Fr. Kolvenbach neatly sums up the means and ends of Jesuit education: “students need close involvement with the poor and the marginal now, in order to learn about reality and become adults of solidarity in the future.” 18

 Creighton University offers students a wealth of opportunities to encounter the gritty reality of the world through para-curricular service, immersion, and justice activities sponsored by the Center for Service and Justice, residence halls, Campus Ministry, student organizations, the Abrahams Legal Clinic, the Magis Medical Clinic, and the Institute for Latin American Concern. Courses in theological, philosophical, and professional ethics are sometimes required and otherwise ubiquitous. Some instructors integrate service opportunities into their syllabi, treating the students’ encounters with the real world as an additional “text” demanding intellectual inquiry and moral reflection. Encuentro Dominicano offers students an entire semester of study, service, immersion, and reflection in the Dominican Republic. The Justice and Peace Studies Program offers students in the College of Arts and Sciences both a minor in Justice and Peace Studies and, in collaboration with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, a major in Justice and Society.

Education to Help Souls
St. Ignatius sought out the finest university education of his day because he saw his own formation and learning as integral to his desire “to help souls.” Later, he insisted that new Jesuit schools be well endowed so that no tuition need be charged, in order that poor children as well as the offspring of the rich could benefit from the best education the early Jesuits had to offer—indeed, the best education all of Europe had to offer. From Ignatius in the sixteenth century to Arrupe in the twentieth and to Kolvenbach in the twenty-first, the context and terms of that commitment to justice in and through education certainly have changed, but the fundamental impulse remains the same. We are drawn to a school like Creighton not just for our own advancement but also out of love for our neighbor and especially out of love for those least likely to have that same immense privilege and responsibility. It was in such a person, a boy with his daily bread, that Fr. Arrupe recognized Christ himself. For the greater glory of God.


1. Vincent J. Duminuco, S.J., (Ed.), The Jesuit Ratio Studiorum:400th Anniversary Perspectives (New York: Fordham,2000). This collection of scholarly essays and documents of the Society of Jesus is an excellent resource on the history and current practice of Jesuit education.

2. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., “Foreword,” in Keven Burke, S.J. (Ed.), Pedro Arrupe:Essential Writings (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 12.

3. Burke, 22.

4. Rondal Modras, Ignatian Humanism (Chicago: Loyola Books, 2004), 246–47.

5. Quoted in Burke, 87–88.

6. Ibid., 173.

7. Ibid., 176.

8. Ibid., 187.

9. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education.” Address given at the University of Santa Clara, Santa Clara, California, October 6, 2000. (text here.)

10. Kolvenbach, “The Service of Faith.”

11. John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #38, 40.

12. Kolvenbach, “The Service of Faith.”

13. Ibid.

14. Dean Brackley, S.J., The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola (New York: Crossroad, 1004), 58.

15. Ibid., 57.

16. Kolvenbach, “The Service of Faith.”

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

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