A "Jesuit" Education
Hope House boys working on school work.
Institutio puerorum, reformatio mundi. The literal translation is a little coarse, but it’s not too unreasonable to render the Latin along the lines of: “the education of our youth will result in the improvement of the world.” This phrase is taken from a letter to King Philip II of Spain, penned by an early Jesuit hagiographer who was explaining the purpose of Jesuit schools. Although written four centuries ago, you can imagine hearing this platitude in a TED talk, or seeing it in marketing for the Peace Corps. In just a few brief paragraphs I want to explore the origin of this not-so-modern idea and then make a connection to our work at Shepherd’s Heart.
During the time of the formation of the Jesuit order (16th century CE), there was a growing number of humanistic schools which were concerned with pietas, or the formation of upright character. The humanists were strong proponents of the notion that studying the liberal arts inspired noble and virtuous ideals. The belief that education held significant curative power for society was widespread and compelling. This cultural movement was fertile ground for sowing a Christian philosophy into a system of education.
Ignatius Loyola, the leading founder of the Jesuit society, held to a spiritual philosophy that had the utmost concern for helping others. Central to the mission of this new society was the incorporation of works of mercy, such as those spoken of in Matthew 25:34-40 (i.e. feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, etc.). For the Jesuits, who were very learned and trained in pedagogy, “instructing those who are ignorant” became an act of mercy — a way of “helping souls” and contributing to “the common good of society.”
Alfonso de Polanco, a secretary for the Jesuit order in the mid 1500’s, published a list in which he gave a number of justifications for the schools. One of the reasons he gives applies to my work and ministry at the Hope House: “that poor boys, who could not possibly pay for [...] private tutors, will make progress in learning.” Why do we value progress in learning? I think we do largely for the same reason they did. We believe, at least to a some degree, the many-hundred-year-old idea that a good education has curative power and is good for both the individual and society. This is a proper ideal for the Christian.
This author is no Roman Catholic — I owe my theology to the Reformation — however, I can’t help but to recognize and appreciate a conceptual historical connection to the Jesuit society. My desire as a missionary is not only to see people grow in knowledge and faith of the Lord Jesus, but like Loyola and his growing society, to be genuinely helpful and to express the mercy and love of God through the means with which I am now equipped, which is instructing orphans.
Shepherd’s Heart Ministries understands the value of a good education and is committed to the academic success of its young men. That’s why we have staff (like myself) working with our youth in Mexico. We recognize, along with De Polanco, that "those who are now only students will grow up to be pastors, civic officials, administrators of justice, and will fill other important posts to everybody's profit and advantage.”
(Editor's Note: Follow this link to provide an education for the young men living at Hope House.)
Notes: The historical information referenced in this article is synthesized from the source provided below.
“How the First Jesuits Became Involved in Education” by John W. O'Malley, S.J. Published in The Jesuit Ratio Studiorum: 400th Anniversary Perspectives. Vincent J. Duminuco, S.J., Ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000, pp.56-74.)