As they prepare for the next millennium, Jesuit educators are turning to a 400-year-old document as their road map _ and finding its sane and salutary advice about the nitty-gritty of education as pertinent today as it was to the earliest Jesuit teachers. A two-day conference celebrating the 400th anniversary of the work, “Ratio Studorium,” or “Plan of Studies,” drew 150 faculty and administrators from Jesuit institutions around the world to Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. “The seminar focused attention on two main elements as we move ahead to the next millennium in our universities,” said the Rev. Vincent Duminuco, a speaker at the Oct. 14-15 conference and director of the International Jesuit Educational Leadership Project.

“These are Jesuit identity and tradition, and the teaching methods that define a Jesuit education.” The “Ratio” was conceived as a blueprint for standardized teaching in all Jesuit schools, an innovative concept at the time of its publication in 1599. Although it was released 43 years after his death, the document was the brainchild of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and reflected his view that education should address the intellectual, moral and spiritual formation of students. The need for such a treatise on Jesuit teaching goals and methods had grown increasingly clear as the number of Jesuit schools grew from the first, opened in Messina, Sicily, in 1546, to 46 at the time of Ignatius’ death in 1556, to more than 200 by 1599.

Today there are more than 800 Jesuit educational institutions and 175 universities. The “Ratio” laid out 30 sets of rules, covering every aspect of Jesuit administration and teaching. While at first glance it might appear to be a dry and rigid document, prescribing all aspects of education in the minutest detail, it also reflects Ignatius’ view that adaptation and progressiveness are key to education. “While recognizing the historical importance of the work, conference participants also saw the relevance of its principles for the present and the future,” said the Rev. John Padberg of the Institute of Jesuit Sources in St. Louis. “It’s the “Ratio’s” emphasis on the adaptability of the educational process that makes it a valid and useful source now,” 400 years after its release.

Father Padberg, an expert on the document’s evolution, described how the “Ratio” progressed from a first draft in 1586 that was philosophical in nature to one that focused on the more practical aspects of teaching methods by 1599. “The early drafts contained long lists of theological and philosophical positions that had to be defended,” Father Padberg said. “These were dropped in favor of more practical considerations.” For all its relevance, the roughly 100-page document has long been out of print. Now, the Institute of Jesuit Sources plans a Loeb Classics-type edition with Latin on one side and English on the other, in honor of the 400th anniversary. There is currently only one copy in English in the Fordham libraries and a few copes at Yale, but none are in English. Fordham University Press will also publish a full text of the “Ratio” conference presentations .