The Study of History and the Principles of Jesuit Education

S. Paul O'Hara, Ph.D.
Mentor: Ed Cueva, Ph.D. (Classics)

The spiritual exercises as created by Ignatius Loyola determine not only the core values of the Jesuits but also the educational principles and pedagogy of a Jesuit institution. In his discussion of the influences of the spiritual exercises of Jesuit education, President Graham suggested six different dimensions of the educational enterprise of a Jesuit college. A Jesuit education, he says, "must be holistic and integrated must be exacting but adaptable, must be reflective, must be ongoing, must be practical but located in a broad horizon, must be finally ordered to something greater." The study of history is not only the systematic examination of the significant events, people, and ideas that have shaped human societies but it also demands the kind of academic rigor, intellectual reflection, exacting rigor, and systematic order that the spiritual exercises suggest. Students of history are encouraged to see the broad changes, processes, and transformations that shape the past; yet at the same time students must be sensitive to the subtle differences and contradictions of the past. In particular history teaches students to be rigorous in their methods but also adaptable to the differences, as Loyola would say, "with respect to people, places, and situations." The study of history frees us from a narrow view of time and place and teaches us how to understand times and places which are not our own. It offers a frame of reference for making critical judgments and demands contemplation of the philosophical and ethical implications not only of the history we study but of our own assumptions and actions today. For perhaps the most relevant educational influence of the spiritual exercises for the study of history comes from the demand that education be placed within a broad horizon. "The purpose of the Spiritual Exercises," writes Loyola, "is the conquest of the self and the regulation of one's life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment." A critical engagement with the past teaches students how to understand the attachments of the past as well as the attachments of the present. Students learn the historical origins of such attachments as race, class, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or religion. They learn how these attachments rise, how they transform, and how they affect the course of human history. By immersing themselves in the past and studying it critically within its own context, students acquire the very kind of broad horizon that a Jesuit education demands.

The Semester as a Spiritual and Intellectual Exercise

In his "Influence of the Spiritual Exercises on Six Dimensions of Jesuit Education," Graham further detailed the imaginative process of the spiritual exercises. "The full Spiritual Exercises are made in about a month," he says.

That month is divided into 4 weeks, each week is divided into days, each day is divided not into hours exactly but what Ignatius calls meditations. Those meditations have a kind of structure to them. The first part is a kind of input. He gives you something to consider. It may be an image he creates for you, or a script, often enough, most usually it's a passage from scripture, usually the life of Christ. The second piece is an imaginative reconstruction of what the scene is. For example, in contemplating the Nativity of Christ, he invites you to walk along with Joseph and Mary and the donkey, and go from inn to inn to inn and be disappointed, and then find your way to the stable, and Ohh! there's the baby, and all this. In the third part, he asks you to step back and talk to the characters in this play that has unfolded in your mind or maybe to talk to God out of this experience. He will often enough invite retreatants to repeat the meditations they have made to see if there's anything else there, to pick up details that may have escaped them the first time. And one of the tools he invites people to use in these so-called repetitions is the application of senses - How does the hay look? How do the cows smell? How do the sheep sound? - as a way to engage all of a person's faculties in entering into this scene in a very absorbing and compelling sort of way.

This is, essentially, the same task historians set for themselves and their students. The point is not only to learn and memorize the date of the Great Chicago Fire but rather to reconstruct and understand the entire scene. What were the class and racial divides of the newly industrializing city? What did it mean to assign blame to a poor Irish woman and her cow? How did the destruction of the city challenge the modern ideologies of progress and order? Etc. Indeed just as Graham notes that one should notice not only the baby but the rest of the stable as well, so too should good history students notice both the fire and its larger social and cultural milieu.

However, this skill is hard to explain and difficult for students to master. It is not learned in a single class or a single reading but rather through repetition of the process of historical inquiry. Much like the spiritual exercises, the end result is what matters. It is only after 15 weeks of guidance, challenges, and encouragements that the pieces begin to fit and the students begin to change and challenge themselves. The guided process of historical inquiry encourages students to think both broadly about the world and specifically about their place within that world.

Back to Top


Born of a Disabled Body: The Ignatian Body and Its Role in Jesuit Education

Dennis J. Frost, Ph.D.
Mentor: Sarah Melcher, Ph.D. (Theology)

In Fall of 2008, I entered the Ignatian Mentoring Program with limited knowledge of Ignatian texts thinking that Ignatius' experiences with injury and illness might offer some interesting perspectives on my studies of disability. After reading John W. O'Malley's The First Jesuits, my mentor, Sarah Melcher, and I turned our attention to Ignatius' Reminiscences. As we read and discussed this autobiographical account, it quickly became apparent that Ignatius had a great deal to say about the body. This initial encounter with Ignatius' works, which I owe to Sarah, led me to examine other early Ignatian texts with the goal of understanding how Ignatius addressed the body and what that might mean for someone teaching at a Jesuit university. Ignatius' references to the body were often complex--at times even contradictory--and his views and approaches to the body clearly evolved over the course of his life. In the end, however, I concluded that highlighting the ways in which Ignatius addressed the body in his writings could offer several insights for those of us teaching, researching, and working at Xavier today. What follows are several brief examples drawn from key Ignatian texts and my reflections on how an appreciation of what I call the "Ignatian Body" might inform approaches to Jesuit education on both a personal and an institutional level.

Origins of the Jesuits

The story of the Jesuits begins with a would-be knight, "given up to the vanities of the world."1 During a battle with the French, a shot struck and shattered one of Ignatius of Loyola's legs and badly injured the other as well. Here most accounts of Ignatius, including the autobiographical Reminiscences, move on to describe how Ignatius' readings during his recovery from these injuries led to his eventual conversion. As important as that conversion was for Ignatius and the Jesuits, it is equally important to note that this story is about disability. To put it somewhat simplistically, the Jesuits were born of a disabled body.


The Reminiscences provides a selective autobiographical account, which omits a number of significant details, but is, nonetheless, peppered with references to illness, food, clothing, and other aspects of body culture. This work highlights the centrality of the body in Ignatius' understanding of his life and mission. Three brief examples are included here:

And because he had been very careful about keeping his hair as was the fashion at the time (and he had it nice), he decided to let it grow just anyhow as nature took it, without combing it or cutting it... For the same reason he was letting the nails on his toes and fingers grow....2

He had great inconvenience as far as study was concerned, because the almshouse was a good way from the college of Montaigu, and one needed to arrive back for the ringing of the Angelus if one was to find the door open, while one couldn't leave before daybreak. Thus, he couldn't put in such a good attendance at his lessons. There was also another problem, that of asking for alms on which to survive.3

But when he returned to the college of Ste Barbe...those in the college who knew that he had been into the house with the plague ran away from him, and refused to let him come in. Thus, he was forced to spend some days outside.4

The Spiritual Exercises

The Spiritual Exercises are the most famous and influential of Ignatius' writings, and they are undeniably centered on spiritual ideas and experiences. At the same time, the body and embodied practice are central to Ignatius' approach. Exercitants, for instance, are encouraged to try different positions for praying until they find the one that is most effective, and all of the approaches to penance involve the body--food, sleep, and chastisement.5 The Exercises also devote an entire section to a discussion of "Rules for the future ordering of one's life as regards eating."6 Yet here and throughout the Exercises, Ignatius acknowledges that adjustments must be made on the basis of individual needs and limitations, perhaps especially those pertaining to physical wellbeing.


Originally drafted by Ignatius in the mid-sixteenth century, The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus outline, in sometimes striking detail, how the Society, its members, and its activities should be governed. References to the body and bodily practices appear throughout the Constitutions, including an entire chapter in Part III, titled "The Preservation of the Body." Three selections from the Constitutions are included here:

[292] 1. Just as an excessive preoccupation with the needs of the body is blameworthy, so too a proper concern for the preservation of one"s health and bodily strength for the divine service is praiseworthy and should be exercised by all.7

[298] 4. Just as it is unwise to assign so much physical labor that the spirit should be oppressed and the body be harmed, so too some bodily exercise to help both the body and the spirit is ordinarily expedient for all, even for those who must apply themselves to mental labors.8

[339] 1. For the care and welfare of those who live in the colleges, in regard to the body and external matters, what was stated in Part III [292-306] will suffice. That is, special attention should be given to their abstaining from studies at times inopportune for bodily health, to their taking sufficient sleep, and to their observance of moderation in mental labors so as to be able to keep at them longer both during their studies and later on when using what they have studied for the glory of God our Lord.9

Incorporating the Ignatian Body: A Personal Response

It is often said that cura personalis, or care of the person, is at the heart of Jesuit education. Influenced by my readings of Ignatius, I have come to see the body as a fundamental element of cura personalis. If people are struggling with mental or physical difficulties they cannot perform at their best. Consequently, I will seek to make my classrooms, my office, and myself as accessible to students as possible and endeavor to allow my understandings of our shared human physicality to guide my interaction with and responses to my students.

I am also convinced that an Ignatian approach to the body can enrich the content of my classes. Body culture is already a recurring theme in my courses, but by highlighting the often overlooked past and present significance of the body in East Asian societies--ranging from footbinding and sumptuary codes, to opium use and McDonald's hamburgers--I hope to inspire students to think more critically about their own bodily practices and perceptions. In Fall 2009, for instance, I am offering a course called "Sports in East Asia." Previous versions of this course have included a unit focusing on the role of sports in shaping body culture in East Asia and our own society. I will be expanding this unit to include examinations of the relationship between sports and popular understandings of disability.

I began my study of Ignatian texts with my research topics in mind, so perhaps it is not surprising that I have found my examination of these texts especially productive on that front. The body has long been and continues to be at the center of my research on the history of modern Japan. My work tracing the emergence and evolution of sports celebrity in Japan gives particular attention to the ways in which sports stars have shaped bodily perceptions and practices. I am also working on a project that uses the Paralympic movement to explore how sports have influenced Japanese perceptions of and approaches to disability. My readings of Ignatian texts have reinforced my desire to understand and address the marginalization of those with disabilities of any sort, for Ignatius himself demonstrates that disability "is a gift no less than is health."10

Are We Incorporating the Ignatian Body at Xavier?

While my readings of Ignatius' works have led me to contemplate how the Ignatian approach to the body might more actively inform my role as teacher, advisor, mentor, and researcher, with the concept of magis in mind, I began to wonder if an understanding of and greater appreciation for the Ignatian Body might help us, as an institution, "find ways of doing what we do better."11 For example, if our university's mission is to develop a "sense of the whole person--body, mind, and spirit," where is the body in our core curriculum?12 Are we unintentionally devaluing the body, especially since our core does not include any physical education requirement? Do we consider how the size of our core affects our students in terms of the body? When students enroll in five or often more classes per semester in order to graduate "on time," what toll does that take on their mental and physical health and their performance? Many of Ignatius' writings suggest that these are the very kinds of issues he and other early Jesuits were struggling with.

Given the origins of the Jesuits, I also believe that our institutional approach to disability issues merits serious consideration. According to our current ADA policy, "Xavier University will not unlawfully discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities as defined by the ADA because of the disability of such individuals in regard to job application procedures, hiring, advancement, discharge, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment."13 As a Jesuit university committed to social justice is it simply enough to meet the legal requirements? Shouldn't we be seeking to exceed them? Is each of our facilities and programs truly accessible and accommodating, or do we need to depend on such clauses as "when viewed in its entirety" or "unless such accommodations would impose an undue hardship on Xavier University to fulfill our legal obligations"14 Are we, as a university community, addressing disability rights as a social justice issue?

As we seek to fulfill our mission of "forming students intellectually, morally, and spiritually, with rigor and compassion, towards lives of solidarity, service, and success," it seems all too easy to take the body for granted.15 But if we are genuinely concerned about the "whole person," we owe to it our students and ourselves to take the body seriously. We might begin, for instance, by asking whether our students are eating, sleeping, drinking, working, and otherwise living in ways that allow them to perform at their best while maintaining their physical and mental health. We should strive to help all of our students develop a sense of appreciation and respect for their bodies and those of others, and we should seek to aid them in developing habits for leading healthy and fulfilling lives. At the same time, we must ask ourselves if WE are leading healthy and fulfilling lives. Engaging these kinds of questions and issues, while not easy, suits our mission as a Jesuit university and promises to make the Xavier experience all the more fulfilling and complete for all in our community.


1. Luis Gonçalves Da Câmara, Reminiscences or Autobiography of Ignatius Loyola, in Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Personal Writings, trans. and annotated by Philip Endean (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), p. 13.

2. Ibid., p. 21.

3. Ibid., p. 49.

4. Ibid., p. 54.

5. Ignatius Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, in Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Personal Writings, trans. and annotated by Philip Endean and Joseph A Munitiz (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), pp. 300-301.

6. Ibid., pp. 325-326.

7. John W. Padberg, S.J., ed., The Constitutionsof the Society of Jesus and Their Complementary Norms (Saint Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Source, 1996), p. 125 number [292].

8. Ibid., p. 126 number [298].

9. Ibid., p. 140 number [339].

10. Ibid., p. 120 number [272].

11.The Rev. Michael J. Graham, S.J., "The Influence of the Spiritual Exercises on Six Dimensions of Jesuit Education," Academic Day Address, October 3, 2006; available in digital format at "The Influence of the Spiritual Exercises on Six Dimensions of Jesuit Education," Xavier University Jesuit Identity Resource, 2008,

12. Xavier University, "University Mission Statement," About Xavier, 2009,

13. Xavier University, "Policy: 4.12 AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA)," in Xavier University Policies & Procedures Manual (Last Review April 30 2008), p. 1.

14. Ibid.

15. The Rev. Michael J. Graham, S.J.

Back to Top


Reading, Writing, and Reflection: The Ignatian Value of Reflection in the History Area of the Core Curriculum

R ChrastilRachel Chrastil, Ph.D.
Mentor: Lisa Close-Jacobs, Ph.D. (Biology)

The Course

New, Mission Driven-Components

Re-Writing papers

New Writing Assignments

A Final Note


4. From Jesuit Saturdays: Sharing the Ignatian Spirit with Lay Colleagues and Friends (2000, Loyola Press)

Back to Top

European History (History 134)

David Mengel, Ph.D.
Mentor: Ed Cueva, Ph.D. (Classics)


History 134: European History II (2 sections, 30 students each), Spring 2005
This course provides a survey of European History from 1500 to the Second World War. Special attention is given to the integration of primary source documents.

In light of my participation in the Ignatian mentoring program, I made the following changes to the course. I intend to include the same additions in future semesters, making minor improvements based on my experience this year.

    1. European History II, HIST 134
      • Fulfills part of the History Area requirement of the Core Curriculum
    2. From the Syllabus:
      • Why study European history?
        Over the past 500 years, Europe has been the center of major cultural and intellectual movements, changed the ways economies and families are organized, dominated the world, and nearly destroyed itself. For better or worse, European history still exerts a strong influence on our own societies. We learn about European history not only to understand the past, but also to understand ourselves.
      • Course Objectives:
        In this course, we will discuss the Wars of Religion, Absolutism, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the 1848 revolutions, imperialism, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the European Union. Over the course of the semester, we will consider various forms of religion, state building, industrialization, political ideology, the family, gender roles, and nationalism.
      • Lectures will be framed as inquiries into historical problems: What were the causes of the French Revolution? How did industrialization affect family life? How did the Nazis come to power to Germany? Through the analysis of broad change, events, personalities, words and images, students will learn not only what happened, but also the way historians think about problems in European history.
      • In this course, you will learn basic historical skills, including using written and visual primary source documents, writing clearly and effectively, and reasoning through historical problems. We will balance the lecture and reading and with the study of primary source documents, including texts, paintings, and film.
    1. Goals
      • To encourage students to reflect more carefully upon the reading and their writing.
      • To encourage students to appreciate that the processes of reading and writing can form a fundamental part of their development as reflective individuals in the Jesuit tradition.
      • In concrete terms, I would like to develop:
        • A new policy concerning re-writing papers.
        • A new kind of writing assignment based on reading for class.
    2. Background
      • The Jesuit habit that has been most meaningful to me in my reading and conversations with my mentor, Lisa Close-Jacobs, is that of reflection.
      • In the chapter "Jesuit 'Products' are Persons of Quality," William J. Byron, S.J., writes, "Reflective persons are not impulsive; they are not necessarily indecisive, but they are measured and deliberate in their approach to decision making."4
      • In terms of student development, I view reflection to mean the ability to sit back, consider carefully what one has read, re-read with a new perspective, write with discernment and purpose, and re-write with the aim of achieving a more perfect, sharper piece of communication. In other words, I would like to encourage students to view reading and writing as a constant conversation in which the end product is not a grade, but a better understanding of 1) the human experience in history and 2) how to communicate more effectively about history.
    1. The Problem
      1. I have always allowed students to re-write their papers, and a few students benefited greatly from the second opportunity.
      2. However, the majority of students made minimal changes, often simply fixing grammatical errors that I have already marked or responding to specific problems, without rethinking the paper or making additional changes.
      3. Under the old policy, the new grade for the papers after the re-write averaged an improvement of less than 2.5%.
    2. The New Policy
      • I will go over rough drafts of your papers with you if you bring them to my office (during office hours or by appointment). You may also re-write your first paper.
      • Re-writing includes re-thinking your essay and may include making changes beyond the comments that I have written on your original.
      • Making changes on a draft and/or re-writing does not guarantee an "A" paper.
      • If you would like to re-write your paper, you must turn in:
        • Your original paper with my comments.
        • A list of changes that you have made to the assignment.
    3. Assessment
      • Provided a learning opportunity to students who truly missed the point of the assignment or who wanted to put in extra effort to improve their writing.
      • Discouraged students who were simply looking for a few easy extra points from submitting a re-write.
      • Example of student-generated list of changes on a paper on the eighteenth-century French Encyclopedia:
        • Discussed how the writing styles were biased.
        • Brought forth the argument of how politics were influenced by the Encyclopedia
        • Fixed tense and grammar
        • Combined ideas and deleted unnecessary ones
        • Indication of sources
    1. The Problem
      • Classroom discussion of reading for which the students have no written responsibility often became stilted and unenlightening.
      • Students either did not do the reading, or did not sufficiently engage with the reading before class.
    2. The New Policy
      • Eight typed responses on primary sources, five will count toward your grade (2% each).
      • Response days marked on the syllabus: *RESPONSE DUE*
      • Questions will be posed to the class before they are due.
        • Example: Why do you think the title of this book is The Embarrassment of Riches?
      • 150-200 words.
      • Responses only accepted in class; no late responses will be accepted.
      • Responses will be graded as 0, 1, or 2 points, with comments.
    3. Assessment
      • Students' writing reveals a far greater depth of understanding than I have ordinarily experienced in classroom discussion.
      • Students have become accustomed to using primary sources and citing specific passages.
      • Students devoted more time to their reading and writing this semester than ever before.
      • Reading responses revealed to me questions and misunderstandings.
        • For instance, several students took at face value the claims of Hungarian nationalists that they were "enslaved" by the Austrian government and did not acknowledge the nationalist hyperbole underlying that poetic license.
    • The success of both of these new components has depended in part on my ability to consistently express and model for the students the importance of reflection in the process of reading and writing.
    • I strive to articulate this importance in many different ways. The frequency of the responses has and will continue to remind me of this key part of teaching reflection.
    1. Syllabus addition

      I added the following language to my syllabus and discuss it on the first day of class. A primary aim of the text is to foster an environment in which students feel free-and will be specifically encouraged-to raise ethical and moral implications of the topics we study.

      This semester we will be exploring together the history of modern Europe, from the time of the sixteenth-century reformations deep into the twentieth century. Considering that our many subjects of study will include the origin of the Jesuits, it is appropriate to consider the ways in which our own institution is a product of the ideas and ideals rooted in the history we study. Xavier University continues to cherish its Jesuit tradition, as reflected in this portion of its Mission Statement:

      With attention to the student as an individual, Jesuit education seeks to develop: 1. Intellectual skills for both a full life in the human community and service in the Kingdom of God; 2. Critical attention to the underlying philosophical and theological implications of the issues; 3. A world view that is oriented to responsible action and recognizes the intrinsic value of the natural and human values; 4. An understanding and communication of the moral and religious values through personal concern and lived witness, as well as by precept of instruction; and 5. A sense of the whole person- body, mind, and spirit.

      The study of history, especially at a Jesuit university like Xavier, should include far more than learning names and dates of people and events long past. In and out of class, I encourage you to consider with me the philosophical and ethical implications of the history we study, and to use what you learn to continue to develop your own intellectual, ethical, and spiritual perspectives.

      Want to know more? Check out these documents on Jesuit education

    2. In-class writing and discussion about the meaning of Xavier's "Jesuit identity"

      Near the beginning of the semester (18 January), I asked the students to spend 15 minutes writing about what they know or think they know about the Jesuit character of Xavier. The primary aim will be to discern the perspectives that students bring into the course and to encourage the students to begin to consider the question. There was quite a range of knowledge and perception among the students. Next year I will allow even more time for the discussion, and attempt to help them better explore that understanding our own culture-including the culture at Xavier-requires an understanding of the history of our society, its culture, and its institutions. We will return to this question in the conversation that follows number 4 (below).

    3. Lecture on early Jesuit education within the context of the Christian Humanism

      I devoted a considerable portion of one lecture (20 January) to the foundation and early years of the Society of Jesus, based in part upon John O'Malley's book, The First Jesuits. The foundation of the Jesuits and the first Jesuit schools were presented within the context of broader movements like religious reform and humanism. We also read brief excerpts from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola during the class; I self-consciously included in these selections some parts that emphasized the way in which this classic spiritual text was written in a very particular historical context and, in part, speaks directly to contemporary controversies in Christianity.

    4. Assignment: Read and respond to primary source readings related to the origin of the Jesuits

      In keeping with the previous assignments, students were required to read primary source documents related to the early Jesuits. We then used Blackboard (course management software) to conduct online small-group discussions before having a class discussion about the text. I chose selections from the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, focusing on the parts of the document specifically related to the original goals of the early Jesuit schools. In the future, I may add selections from the letters of Francis Xavier to this assignment.

      The in-class discussion brought together the readings, the online discussions, and the lectures in a conversation that addressed Jesuit education, past and present. We considered what has changed and what has not changed. Some principles from the sixteenth-century text seemed to the students to apply very easily, whereas others seemed more particularly bound to the original historical context-a point I was happy to see the students grasping. This raised another important question for discussion: how do we interpret our participation in a tradition with particular historical roots, some of which seem to apply better to our culture than others? More specifically, to what extent do we or should we allow the history of the Jesuits to guide how we construe our identity as members of a modern Jesuit university?

      Periodically over the rest of the semester, I made brief references to the influence and impact of the Jesuits, from contributions of particular Jesuits in political theory to their education of European monarchs and their prominent roles in what we might call culture wars, the latter occasionally resulting in their expulsion from various European countries.

      Back to Top