The new religious order was formally approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III.
The Jesuits quickly made education one of their special ministries. During St. Ignatius' lifetime (1491-1556), colleges were opened in several countries, including Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Shortly after Ignatius' death, a number of additional schools were begun in Germany, Bohemia, and the Lowlands.
Since the beginning, theology has occupied a central place in the life of Jesuit colleges and universities. The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus from 1548 state:
"Since the end of the Society and its studies is to aid our fellowmen to the knowledge and love of God and to the salvation of their souls, and since the subject of theology is the means most suited to this end, in the universities of the Society the principal emphasis ought to be placed upon it. Accordingly, there should be diligent treatment by excellent professors of what pertains to scholastic doctrine and Sacred Scripture, as also to that part of positive theology which is conducive to the aforementioned end."
As Jesuit higher education has developed over the centuries, the Society has continued to maintain both the nature of their educational institutions as universities and the character of these universities as Jesuit.
Periodically, the worldwide Society of Jesus meets to discuss matters of importance, such as the election of a new superior general. These international meetings are called General Congregations. At the 34th General Congregation (1995) , the Jesuits said this about their university ministry in Decree Seventeen (Jesuits and University Life):
"As we look to the future, we need consciously to be on guard that both the noun 'university' and the adjective 'Jesuit' always remain fully honored.
409 6. "The noun guarantees a commitment to the fundamental autonomy, integrity, and honesty of a university precisely as a university: a place of serene and open search for and discussion of the truth. It also points to the mission proper to every university: its dedication to research, teaching, and the various forms of service that correspond to its cultural mission as the indispensable horizon and context for a genuine preservation, renewal, and communication of knowledge and human values. As Jesuits, we seek knowledge for its own sake and at the same time must regularly ask, 'Knowledge for what?'"
The department of theology is committed to this Jesuit vision of the University. This vision is reflected in Xavier University's Vision and Mission Statement
410 7. "We affirm the adjective 'Jesuit' no less strongly. This presupposes the authentic participation in our basic Jesuit identity and mission of any university calling itself Jesuit, or any university which operates ultimately under our responsibility. While we want to avoid any distortion of the nature of a university or any reduction of its mission to only one legitimate goal, the adjective 'Jesuit' nevertheless requires that the University act in harmony with the demands of the service of faith and promotion of justice found in Decree 4 of GC 32." A Jesuit university can and must discover in its own proper institutional forms and authentic purposes a specific and appropriate arena for the encounter with the faith which does justice.
411 8. "We applaud the many ways in which Jesuit universities have tried to apply this decree, both in the lives of students through outreach programs of mutual contact and service with the poor, and in the central teaching, research, and publication aims of the university. If it remains true that most Jesuit universities must, in various ways, strive to do even more in order to embody this mission of service to the faith and its concomitant promotion of justice, this only reflects the challenge all Jesuits face to find concrete and effective ways in which large and complex institutions can be guided by and to that justice which God himself so insistently calls for and enables. The task is possible; it has produced martyrs who have testified that 'an institution of higher learning and research can become an instrument of justice in the name of the Gospel.'"
** Xavier's department of theology is committed to this understanding of the Jesuit character of our educational ministry. This commitment is evident especially in the many theology courses that focus on the relationship between faith and justice, such as Faith and Justice, Contemporary Ethical Issues, Liberation Issues and Theology, Christian Health Care Ethics, and others.
Additional links of interest:
- For information about Xavier's programs in peace and justice and related student activities, click here.
- For information about Xavier's peace studies minor, click here.
- For retired Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach's lecture, "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education" (Oct. 6, 2000), click here. For his lecture to Xavier University on "The Service of Faith in a Religiously Pluralistic World" (Oct. 3, 2006), click here.
- For Jesuit Superior General Adolfo Nicolás's lecture, "Depth, Universality, and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today" (Apr. 23, 2010), click here.