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What is Jesuit education?

Catholic education has six core elements, says Jack Butler, mission and ministry vice president at Boston College.

September 14, 2010

The Jesuits have seen the training of religious and lay believers as core to their mission for more than 400 years. The order’s form of education is based on the experience and life of the Spanish founder of the order, Ignatius Loyola. A lay Catholic, he developed the “Spiritual Exercises,” a devotional guide to a more complete love of God. Loyola, at the time a knight, had a spiritual conversion after being forced into convalescence by an injury. He reflected on his religious experiences, Butler said, and wrote the Exercises. These were eventually institutionalized into the Society of Jesus, the religious order Loyola founded.

The Society of Jesus began building schools shortly after it was founded by Ignatius Loyola more than 400 years ago. These schools each take different forms, and in response to the context and the characteristics of the school, Jesuit institutions find different ways to integrate their identity into the organization.

As a Jesuit school, Boston College builds on the three principles of Catholic education, said the Rev. Jack Butler. Jesuit education, Butler said, has six core elements:

  1. Care of the person. “Therefore,” Butler said, “Jesuit education is flexible and adaptable.”
  2. Experience. “Jesuits believe that students come with education,” Butler said. “We get them to reflect on their experience. Jesuit education is interactive and experiential.” As a result, experiences in the world, through either service projects or the practical application of classroom knowledge, are a key part of education.
  3. Liberal arts. Ignatius Loyola said that if individuals follow their desire, they will find God. In order to find that desire, Butler said, students need a broad basis of knowledge from which to begin seeking. Another reason that Jesuit education emphasizes the liberal arts is so that students can find God in all things. And finally, Jesuits believe that students should be able to converse on a range of topics.
  4. Mission. Jesuits are networkers, which is why they care that students can converse on a range of topics, Butler said. But their networking is to be better able to engage society. “Jesuit education prepares men and women to go out into the world,” he said.
  5. Service of justice. About one percent of the world is able to receive a college education, Butler said. So the rest of the world is looking to those with an education to be able to make a difference in their lives. “Because of our mission, and our faith in God, we have a faith that does justice,” Butler said.
  6. Anticipatory joy. Jesuit education should inspire students to want more and to seek to live with enthusiasm. “Because we believe that the world is infused with the grandeur of God,” Butler said, “you’ll want to transcend yourself and get to your ultimate meaning. And there, you’ll find God.”

 

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