Glorifying God, integrating faith and culture, and replenishing the clergy are reasons why the Society of Jesus has made education part of its mission, according to a visiting Jesuit.

Charles J. Beirne, S.J., visiting professor in the Graduate School of Education and a consultant on Jesuit higher education in Africa, delivered the lecture, “Why are Jesuits in Schools?” as part of Ignatian Heritage Week.

Father Beirne drew upon more than 45 years in administrative positions at Jesuit schools in his Jan. 26 presentation at the Lowenstein Center’s South Lounge.

The idea of a centrally organized college run by Jesuits caught on almost immediately after St. Ignatius Loyola opened the first one in 1547 in Messina, Spain, Father Beirne said. By the time St. Ignatius died in 1556, there were 35 such schools. By 1773, there were nearly 800.

Creating schools made recruiting new priests much easier when Jesuits traveled abroad. This is also true today, especially in South America and Africa, said Father Beirne, who was the academic vice president and a professor of education at Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala from 1996 to 2000.

“The Society is seen as making a difference, of having an influence, and much of that is through the institutions of learning,” he said.

Integrating faith and culture is another area that has been essential to the Jesuit mission. Education is an ideal tool for accomplishing this integration, especially when exploring complex subject like biotechnology, he said.

“Learning was seen as an Apostolic instrument. You could do this for the greater glory of God, but it also was seen as something that was valuable in and of itself,” Father Beirne said. “That’s extremely important.”

A summary published at the Society’s 34th General Congregation, he said, succinctly illustrated the link.

“The mission of the Society, in service to the crucified and risen Christ, is directed to the ways in which he makes his presence felt, in the diversity of human cultural experiences in order that we may present the Gospel as Christ’s explicitly liberating experience,” he quoted.

Perhaps just as important as any historical or practical reason, Father Beirne admitted that working in academia is just plain fun.

“Sometimes there are certain days when it’s not,” he said. “When I was living in residence halls at Santa Clara and Georgetown as an administrator, sometimes being there lost its charm at about two in the morning, as the students’ schedules were somewhat different from my own,” he said jokingly.

“But I was in Puerto Rico at Christmastime, where I’d been for 10 years, and I was talking to one of the alumni who was becoming a member of the new governor’s cabinet. I said to him, ‘You guys were really interesting as kids, but you’re far more fascinating as adults.’ To be able to see them as adults and then to feel that you didn’t do too much positive harm in their development is really wonderful, and it’s very reassuring,” he said.


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.