The Jesuit, Catholic Tradition in Today's World:
Gifts of Our Ignatian Heritage

By George Traub, SJ and Debra Mooney, Ph.D.

What is a Jesuit, Catholic university?

Let's begin with a Catholic university - The foundation for this understanding can be found in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (meaning From the Heart of the Church) a constitution issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990 that promotes the value of Catholic universities - as universities and as Catholic. As academic communities, universities embrace institutional autonomy and academic freedom, rigorously and critically assisting in the protection and advancement of human dignity and knowledge. Universities which are Catholic have, in addition, a Christian inspiration of individuals and of the university community, a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith on human knowledge, fidelity to the Christian message, and an institutional commitment to the service of God and of the human family.

It is clear in the document that the Pope had no expectation that all members of a Catholic university would be Catholic or Christian or of any faith at all, but he recognized that the institution should strive to become a truly human community animated by a spirit of freedom and charity, and characterized by mutual respect, sincere dialogue, and protection of the rights of individuals. A Catholic university should assist each of its members to achieve wholeness as human persons. This vision of a Catholic university respects both the integrity of the university as well as its Catholic commitment.

So what does it mean to be a Jesuit, Catholic university?

A year prior to Ex Corde, the philosophy of Catholic and Jesuit education was described by the faculty in their report, "General Education at Xavier University". It states:

"Education at a Catholic and Jesuit institution is directed the spiritual enrichment of the whole person, the integration of the spiritual into the person's educational experience, and the nurturing of a strong sense of personal values. Such education is directed at the integration of moral character, so as to create sensitivity to the needs of our time, and so as to instill a sense of moral responsibility in career choice, and a sense of duty to become a contributing member of society."

In 2009, with these ideals as a guide, and Ex Corde as a foundation, a group of Xavier faculty and administrators envisioning the future mission and identity at the University concluded that a Jesuit university, today, manifests itself through five expressions or "gifts" of the Ignatian tradition. These are:

The Gift of Mission invites us to understand the history and importance of our Jesuit heritage and Ignatian spirituality. Mission at a Jesuit University focuses on the centrality of academic excellence, grounded in a Catholic faith tradition.

The Gift of Reflection calls us to pause and consider the world around us and our place within it.

The Gift of Discernment invites us to be open to God's spirit as we consider our feelings and rational thought in order to make decisions and take action that will contribute good to our lives and the world around us.

The Gift of Solidarity and Kinship reminds us to walk along side and learn from our companions, both local and afar, as we journey through life.

The Gift of Service Rooted in Justice and Love invites us to invest our lives into the well-being of our neighbors, particularly those who suffer injustice.

To provide feedback, please email: is developed by The Center for Mission and Identity at Xavier University with support from the Conway Institute for Jesuit Education. Learn more about Jesuit Resource.