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Today the Society of Jesus runs more than 2.000 basic schools and almost 200 universities that continue the Jesuit Education Tradition in the world. These schools are present in more than 70 countries and in 5 continents. We continue opening new schools everywhere and work hard to make sure our schools meet the requirements to really being called a “Jesuit School.” No doubt, the main characteristic of a Jesuit school is to be at the service of the universal mission of the Society of Jesus: a faith that does justice in dialogue with others and in the context of caring for the environment. GC36 captures this mission of the Society in terms of a mission of reconciliation: “The call to share God’s work of reconciliation in our broken world… reconciliation with God, with one another, and with creation, assumed a new urgency.” (D. 2 #21). To serve the mission is the main and, ultimately, the only reason the Society of Jesus has for engaging in the apostolate of education.
Saint Ignatius and the first Jesuits, although reluctant to commit to education at the beginning, quickly realized the apostolic potential of the schools and decided to embrace heartily this new ministry. Fr. Diego Laínez, one of the initial founders of the Society and the second Superior General of the Society after Ignatius stated clearly the importance of education for the nascent religious congregation according to Paul Grendler: “Laínez wrote that the schools were the most important ministry of the Society, equal to all the other ministries combined. And he expected every Jesuit to teach at some point in his career.” (In “Diego Lainez and his Generalate.” Ed. Oberholzer, P., Institutum Romanum Societatis Iesu, 2015, p. 666). This esteem for Jesuit education has been ratified by many General Congregations and by many Father Generals. In our contemporary times Fr. Arrupe made it clear: “I repeat, once again, that the Church and the Society of Jesus hold the educational apostolate in the very highest esteem… the apostolate of education is absolutely vital for the Church. So vital is it that educational work is the first, and often the only, work prohibited to the Church by certain political regimes.” (Our schools Today and Tomorrow, 1980, # 28-29).
More recently, Fr. General Adolfo Nicolas reminded us of the importance of education and challenged our schools to be faithful to our tradition of depth of thought and imagination. “I am inviting, in all my visits to all Jesuits, to re-create the Society of Jesus, because I think every generation has to re-create the faith, they have to re-create the journey, they have to re-create the institutions… If we lose the ability to re-create, we have lost the spirit.” (Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today, Mexico City, 2010). Our tradition compels us to an ongoing renewal as a response to the always changing context of our education. Fr. General Arturo Sosa SJ has capture well the spirit of our tradition in the concept of the audacity of the impossible: “we too desire to contribute to that which today seems impossible: a humanity reconciled in justice, that lives in peace, in a common home well-cared-for, where there is a place for all, because we recognize each other as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same and only Father.” (Homily, Mass of Thanksgiving, October 15, 2016).
To serve our mission today we need to identify the challenges that Jesuit education face so that we can discover the opportunities they present and they can enlighten our ongoing process of renewal and innovation. I want to point out 5 challenges that, although not the only challenges we face, are among the most important ones.
1. The Challenge of Global education and International Networking: Today we live in a world that has become globally interconnected like never before. What humans do in our part of our world affects us all. We are discovering our common responsibility for the planet. In this sense, the generation we educate is called to be citizens of the world not by choice but by their context. Thus our schools are called to surrender any conception of a school as an isolated institution dealing just with a local context… all our schools must respond to their local context but they should also prepare our students to become global citizens that recognize their responsibility in the building of a world of solidarity and justice and commit themselves to the construction of a more humane global society.
This requires a new way of proceeding for our schools since “Serving Christ’s mission today means paying special attention to its global context. This context requires us to act as a universal body with a universal mission, realizing at the same time the radical diversity of our situations. It is a worldwide community-and, simultaneously, as a network of local communities-that we seek to serve others across the world.” (GC35, D.2, #20). Our schools have been actively responding to this call. In recent years we have been able to witness of numerous initiatives to make the local, regional and global network of schools more active and develop new programs and projects that allow our schools to educate our students as real players in the global stage. The colloquium in Boston in 2012, the SIPEI in 2014 and the coming JESEDU Congress in Rio de Janeiro are important steps to respond together to the global context. Much more has to be do to be sure, but we have been building an important momentum to address this key challenge. South Asia is a good example of this effort. Today the schools in the region are building important networks at the zonal level and this makes them to be involved, more actively, in the broader concerns at the regional and global levels.
2. The Challenge of Technology as new Learning Paradigm: the technology is changing they way we are and even the way our brains work. It is true that as any new development technology brings many promises but also dangers. In our tradition we want to take advantages of the benefits and overcome the dangers, but we cannot do this unless we engage in a profound and creative conversation about the place and use of technology in our schools. This means not only a smart campus with Wi-Fi, smart boards and computer access but a real discussion of how technology is shaping our lives and especially the lives of our students and how it can help us to advance our mission and provide opportunities for the education of the whole person. At the international level our schools now have the opportunity to participate in Educate Magis (https://www.educatemagis.org), an online platform to allow educators of our schools to interact, re-create and imaging new possibilities at a more global level. This is a great and friendly opportunity to use technology at the service of our mission and enhance collaboration and networking at the international level. I have seen a great interest in many educators from South Asia to become involved in Educate Magis sharing their accomplishments and challenges. This is an important contribution to shape this new initiative. Educate Magis will become what make of it. It promises a great opportunity to network and advance Jesuit education in our present context.
3. The Challenge of a new relationship to Earth and the Universe: we are all aware of the ecological crisis threating the survival of humanity and the planet earth itself. Dealing with this crisis requires to re-formulate our relationship to creation. We need to replace the industrialist perspective of the planet as just raw material for our consumption and discover the communion of humanity with earth and the universe. It really requires a change of heart and many of our habits. As Pope Francis insisted in his encyclical Laudato Si we need to see the ecological crisis in the context of a broader crisis that requires a new way of relating to the planet and to others. Jesuit education has the opportunity to address this challenge and contribute to this new educational frontier with creative ways to educate us and our students to grow in solidarity with one another and creation. Many Jesuit schools are beginning to seriously address this challenge but the size of this crisis requires more than isolated initiatives, it requires creative thinking at a global level. We have the conditions to do this as a global network…
4. Academic Excellence in the context of Human Excellence: Jesuit education has been historically recognized as offering academic excellence. This is good since our schools should meet the standards of what civil society considers as quality education. But we have been also accused of sacrificing other aspects of human life to this. If this has been true sometimes, it is certainly not part of our authentic tradition. As the recent document on Human Excellence points out, Jesuit education strives for the formation of men and women of conscience, competence, compassion and commitment. That is, men and women that are ethically rooted and call to be free (of conscience); professionally prepared to transform society in the world at the service of justice and peace (competence); open to the cries of the poor and marginalized, thus working for more humane societies based on real solidarity (compassion); and open to a religious experience and spirituality that links faith and justice and commits to creation (commitment). These 4 Cs form the core of the excellence that we want in our schools and should guide our schools in an examination to see if we are really being faithful to our roots.
5. At the Service of Wisdom and Joy: we live in a world flooded with knowledge and information… but paradoxically sad, empty, exhausted and in many ways unhappy! There are not easy explanations for this but certainly the present consumerism has contributed to it because it has sold the idea that being more means to buy more… We want our students to go deeper and really look for a profound wisdom and joy that can give life and death meaning and purpose. Our Ignatian spirituality gives a path to find this deeper level. We need to make sure that our students feel home, that cura personalis is a reality in our schools and that students discover the joy of learning and growing with purpose…