The Society of Jesus is known, perhaps more than any other order of the Catholic Church, for its deep commitment to education. And it is only natural that the Jesuits have invested so heavily in education, particularly at Xavier. After all, the Society of Jesus traces its roots to a school.
In 1534 at the University of Paris, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a minor Spanish nobleman who had undergone a spiritual epiphany while recovering from injuries from the Battle of Pamplona, communed in a crypt below the city streets with six students (including a young Saint Francis Xavier) to dedicate themselves to vows of poverty and chastity, and to study and teach the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact, Xavier’s 175th anniversary coincides with the 500th anniversary of Ignatius' conversion. In celebration, the Society of Jesus has dedicated this year—from May 2021 to July 2022—as an Ignatian Year.
After receiving approval from Pope Paul III in 1540, the Society of Jesus was officially born, with Ignatius as its first Superior General. Just eight years later, in 1548, the first Jesuit school opened in Messina, Sicily. And in less than a decade, the society had opened dozens of Jesuit schools across countries and continents, from primary schools to universities. In 1847, when John Larkin, S.J.—an English-born priest of Irish heritage—ventured downtown from Fordham University to found Xavier, he did so with the mission of bringing Jesuit education to a new generation of young Catholic men in New York City. Today, more than 3,700 schools across six continents carry on the Jesuit mission of education.
A fundamental pillar of Jesuit education is dedicated to caring for students otherwise marginalized. At Xavier, in the 1850s, this meant accommodating the waves of Catholic immigrants to New York City, many of whom were unable to pay for an education. From its inception, Xavier offered scholarships and financial aid to many of its students. A boy from a destitute family could enter Xavier at age nine and exit prepared for the clergy, law, medicine, or business. Today, Xavier is more committed than ever to the mission of expanding access to Jesuit education.
But what is so special about a Jesuit education, anyway? A Jesuit education, at its core, is an education of the entire person. At Xavier, students — through rigorous academics, deep spiritual guidance, and service — become men for others, men committed to the pursuit of knowledge and justice, to serve both God and their neighbors in the pursuit of justice.
In 1973, just months after visiting Xavier, Pedro Arrupe, S.J., then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, spoke to a group of Jesuit high school alumni in Valencia, Spain. In his now-famous "Men for Others" address, he discussed the implications of a commitment to justice. Justice, Arrupe said, demands a lack of indifference, an unwillingness to look away from injustice. The mission of the Church is the love and liberation of all of God’s creation, to recognize sin beyond personal fault, and to root it from the very structures of our world.
Today our prime educational objective must be to form men for others ... men who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.
Servant of God Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus, 1973
The Profile of the Graduate of a Jesuit High School at Graduation, written in 1981, is a seminal document in Jesuit pedagogical philosophy that builds upon Fr. Arrupe's works and gets to core of what a Jesuit education is all about. (Vincent Duminuco, S.J., one-time headmaster of Xavier, served as president of what was then known as the Jesuit Secondary Education Association when the document was written.) The “Grad at Grad,” as it is more commonly known, outlines five key pillars of character and spirit, five traits a Jesuit education aims to realize in its graduates. A graduate of a Jesuit high school, on the precipice of adulthood, should be open to growth, intellectually competent, religious, loving, and committed to doing justice. In practice, these five elements describe Xavier graduates ready to use their intellectual and spiritual gifts to make the world a better place. In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Sons of Xavier learn to “go forth and set the world on fire.”
Jesuit educations aren’t only about passing knowledge down between generations. It is also a reciprocal process. The 2018 Synod on Youth and Vocational discernment emphasized the significant value of the perspectives of the young, and Xavier is committed to listening, and responding, to the concerns and questions of young Sons of Xavier as they encounter the world and all of its challenges—inequality, violence, discrimination, and injustice. A Jesuit education is about creating space for youth to realize their potential; to foster creativity, curiosity, and passion; to feel loved and cared for by both Jesus Christ and their community; and to rise to the challenges of their day. Today, Jesuits and laypeople collaborate in the work of Jesuit education on 16th Street.
In his 1973 address, Arrupe issued a challenge that continues to reverberate through Jesuit schools and inform every aspect of Xavier's mission. "Today our prime educational objective must be to form men for others," he said, "men who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce."
From Xavier's theological bedrock, an ever-growing, ever-changing institution has emerged. For 175 years, Xavier has committed to educating, in every sense, young men in the spirit of the Jesuit mission—175 years in pursuit of justice, love, and Jesuit education.