What is Jesuit Education?

Your Guide to Jesuit Education

Millions of people across the globe have experienced the transformative power of a Jesuit education. This guide answers frequently asked questions about Jesuit education, including its characteristics, history and values. It also provides a directory of Jesuit universities and colleges within the United States and an index of common Jesuit terms.

FAQS

What is Jesuit Education?

Jesuit Education is based on a 450-year-old tradition that aims to form high school and college students intellectually, morally and spiritually toward lives of solidarity, service and professional success. Emphasis is placed on learning through community service, interdisciplinary courses and the engagement of faith, theology, philosophy and ethics studies.

The phrase “Jesuit education” indicates that a given school was founded and staffed by members of the Society of Jesus. More significantly, it refers to a way of doing things—the style, goals and values that are expressed by teachers, administrators and staff. 

The goal is to help shape students’ minds and hearts into a habit of reaching out to the needs of today's and tomorrow's global society and, in the process, reaching out to God.

What is a Jesuit school?

Simply put, Jesuit schools are Catholic high schools and colleges that are run by the Jesuits (members of an apostolic Roman Catholic community known as the Society of Jesus). 

Across the United States, there are 27 Jesuit colleges and universities and 62 Jesuit high schools. American Jesuit colleges and universities are part of a network of about 133 Jesuit institutions of higher education in 31 countries around the world.

What are the Jesuit values of education?

The values of Jesuit education are rooted in the vision of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit Order (learn more about his life in the ‘history’ section). These values prepare students to be wiser and more compassionate as they take the next step in their life journey as men and women for others.

  • Cura Personalis. Jesuit education emphasizes the view that each person is a unique creation of God. Cura Personalis (meaning ‘care for the whole self’ in Latin) is demonstrated by personal attention in the classroom, a deep respect for diversity and difference and an emphasis on holistic care for the mind, body and spirit.
  • Discernment. Discernment encourages students to be open to God’s spirit as they make decisions and take actions that contribute to the greater good. Discernment is practiced through prayer, reflection, consultation with others and considering the full impact of actions from diverse angles.
  • Finding God in all things. A Jesuit education is one grounded in the presence of God, and encompasses imagination, emotion and intellect. The Jesuit vision encourages students to seek the divine in all things—in all peoples and cultures, in all areas of study and learning and in every human experience.
  • Magis . A commitment to the concept of Magis (Latin for ‘more’) is a hallmark of Jesuit education. It challenges students to go beyond what is expected, interacting with the world with generosity, excellence and empathy. Magis is modeled by personal accountability and high expectations of achievement.
  • Reflection. A foundational value of Jesuit education is the practice of reflection. Students are invited to pause to consider the world around them and their place within it before making decisions. This includes challenging the status quo, acknowledging biases and accepting responsibility for actions.
  • Service rooted in justice and love. Jesuit education cultivates critical awareness of social and personal evil, but points out that God’s love is more powerful. This value is illustrated through community service programs, service learning semesters, immersion experiences and various volunteer opportunities for students.
  • Solidarity and kinship. Students work together for the greater good. They develop relationships with their surrounding communities and share their talents and skills to help and serve others. This value is practiced through community engaged learning, where students work with community members to come up with innovative solutions.

Why is a Jesuit education important?

Jesuit education inspires students to live purposeful and fulfilling lives of leadership and service to others. In short, it helps create a better world. Among its many benefits and characteristics, Jesuit Education

  • Prepares students for lifelong learning
  • Explores the intersection between faith and culture
  • Embraces interfaith engagement and collaboration
  • Is comprehensive and rooted in the liberal arts tradition
  • Pays special attention to values, ethical issues and the development of moral character
  • Stresses the importance of social and environmental justice
  • Maintains an optimistic view of human nature and of its possibilities
  • Encourages critical, analytical and creative approaches to solving problems
  • Promotes interfaith engagement and diverse faith traditions
  • Prepares students for a rapidly changing and diverse society
  • Develops responsible citizens who are sensitive to the needs of our time
  • Encourages critical, analytics and creative approaches to solving problems
  • Incorporates a global and international dimension for growth and learning
  • Inspires students to change society and the world for the better

“Jesuit education is instrumental to creating people who have empathy and who know how to care about people, who know how to ask questions and dismantle systems and institutions that may not necessarily be working for the world anymore. The concepts of discernment and reflection and caring for the whole person, all of these things that Jesuit education teaches are so important. They're not just good for your life, but for whatever place you go.”

-Benmun Damul, Xavier University Class of 2019

“I knew that service was important, but I never really knew how to integrate that into what I wanted to do as a career and how I wanted to dedicate myself to continuing to ask those questions of what it means to serve justice in our world. Going to a Jesuit university showed me how those things can work together and answer greater questions about solidarity.”

-Brianna Lensome, Xavier University Class of 2019

History of Jesuit Education

Who was St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius Loyola (1491- 1556) was the founder of the Jesuit religious order. He was born Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola in the Basque country of Northeastern Spain, where he eventually became a soldier. During a battle with the French, his leg was shattered by a cannonball. He spent his time in recovery reading books about Saints legends and an illustrated Life of Christ.

He became especially inspired by the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. When he recovered, he decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he felt he could be closer to God. During his journey, he spent much of his time in Manresa, Spain, in prayer (sometimes for as much as 7 hours a day). He began to write down his insights about God and who God was for him, forming the basis for his spiritual exercises which are still practiced today. 

After returning from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Ignatius decided he needed an education in order to “help souls.” In Barcelona, he went to school with boys a quarter his age to learn the rudiments of Latin grammar, and then moved on to several other Spanish university cities. In each he was imprisoned and interrogated by the Inquisition, because he kept speaking to people about spirituality without having a theology degree or priestly ordination.

Eventually, Ignatius enrolled at the University of Paris, where he earned his master’s degree. While in school, he became close friends with like-minded men who decided to bind themselves together in an apostolic community that became the Society of Jesus.

Unanimously elected superior by his companions, Ignatius spent the last 16 years of his life in Rome leading the order, while the others traveled around the world and founding schools as a means of helping people “find God in all things.”

How was Jesuit education started?

Ignatius of Loyola and his companions founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. Once the order was founded, they organized and opened colleges for the education of the young men joining the Jesuit religious order. Seven years later, Ignatius opened the first Jesuit school for young lay men. 

At the time of Saint Ignatius’ death, there were 1,000 Jesuits, a good number of them involved in the 35 schools that had been founded. Twenty-five years later the number of schools rose to 144, and another 35 years after that, it approached 400. By the end of the 1700s, there were more than 800 Jesuit colleges and universities throughout the world.

Until the nineteenth century, Jesuit schools were almost exclusively staffed and administered by the Jesuits themselves. Today, many non-Jesuit teachers and administrators work alongside Jesuits in high schools, colleges and universities.

Directory of Jesuit Colleges & Universities (U.S.A.)

Today, there are 27 Jesuit universities and colleges within the United States. Schools range from major research universities to small liberal arts colleges. Programs include business schools, schools of law, schools of medicine and schools of nursing. 

University Location Year
Xavier University Cincinnati, OH 1831
Boston College Boston, MA 1863
Canisius College Buffalo, NY 1870
College of the Holy Cross Worcester, MA 1843
Creighton University Omaha, NE 1878
Fairfield University Fairfield, CT 1841
Fordham University Bronx, NY & Manhattan, NY 1841
Georgetown University Washington, D.C. 1841
Gonzaga University Spokane, WA 1887
John Carroll University University Heights, OH 1886
Le Moyne College Syracuse, NY 1946
Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, CA 1911
Loyola University Chicago Chicago, IL 1870
Loyola University Maryland Baltimore, MD 1852
Loyola University New Orleans New Orleans, LA 1912
Marquette University Milwaukee, WI 1881
Regis University Denver, CO 1877
Rockhurst University Kansas City, MO 1910
St. Joseph University Philadelphia, PA 1851
St. Louis University St. Louis, MO 1818
St. Peter's University New Jersey, NJ 1872
Santa Clara University Santa Clara, CA 1851
Seattle University Seattle, WA 1891
Spring Hill College Mobile, AL 1830
University of Detroit Mercy Detroit, MI 1877
University of San Francisco San Francisco, CA 1855
University of Scranton Scranton, PA 1888

Index of Jesuit terms

A.M.D.G.

Short for the Latin phrase “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” which translates “For the Greater Glory of God.” It is the motto of the Society of Jesus as mentioned by Ignatius of Loyola in the Constitutions of the Jesuits.

Discernment

A process for making choices, in a context of faith, when the option is between several possible courses of action, all of which are potentially good. For Ignatius, discernment involved prayer, reflection and consultation with others—all with honest attention not only to the rational, but also to the realm of one’s feelings.

Jesuit

A member of the Society of Jesus.

Religious Order

In Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and some Anglican and Episcopalian traditions, a religious order is a community of men or women bound together by the common profession through religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

Society of Jesus

A Catholic religious order of men founded in 1540 by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and a small multinational group of his peers from the University of Paris. They saw their mission as one of being available to go anywhere and do anything to “help souls,” especially where the need was greatest.

The Spiritual Exercises

An organized series of spiritual exercises put together by Ignatius of Loyola out of his personal experience and others. The Exercises invite the reader or participant to meditate on central aspects of Christian faith, such as creation, sin, forgiveness, calling and ministry and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ignatius wrote this in his book, The Spiritual Exercises, a handbook designed to help the spiritual guide advise an individual performing the Exercises. The goal is to attain spiritual freedom, the power to act—not out of social pressure, personal compulsion or fear, but out of the promptings of God’s spirit, in the deepest truest core of one’s being, to act ultimately out of love.

As originally designed, the “full” Spiritual Exercises would occupy a person for four weeks full time, but it is possible to make the the “full” Exercises part time over a period of six to 10 months—known as the “Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life.” In that case, the participant, without withdrawing from home or work, devotes about an hour a day to prayer and sees a guide every week or two to process what has been happening in prayer and in the rest of their life.