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Missional Dimensions of Community Engagement

In 1973, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., cast a vision that would lay the foundation for contemporary Jesuit education: “Today our prime educational objective must be to form men for others” (a phrase that is more expansively and cooperatively understood today as forming students to be people for and with others) as “the paramount objective of Jesuit education” (Arrupe, 1973, para. 2). Speaking at a time in which there was much social and religious upheaval happening in the world, Arrupe argued:

Education for justice has become in recent years one of the chief concerns of the Church. Why? Because there is a new awareness in the Church that participation in the promotion of justice and the liberation of the oppressed is a constitutive element of the mission which our Lord has entrusted to her.

(para. 2)

According to Arrupe, justice is a response to the call of the Christian gospel and the Christ who became a human being for and with others. Moreover, concern for justice is because of who God is and how God acted, and acts, in the world. Arrupe asserted that previous dichotomies (e.g. justice among persons or justice before God; personal conversion or social reform; liberation in this life or salvation in the life to come) are false dichotomies. Put simply, Arrupe argued that Jesuit education must create human beings who are “completely convinced that the love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce” (1973, para. 2).

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., made his own significant contributions to the development of a Jesuit higher educational emphasis on social justice, most notably in his 2000 speech, “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education.” Informed by Decree 4 from the Society of Jesus’ 32nd General Congregation which asserted “there is no genuine conversion to the love of God without conversion to the love of neighbor and, therefore, to the demands of justice” (para. 28), Kolvenbach asked three framing questions for Jesuit universities: Who do our students become as human beings who serve faith and promote justice? What do our faculty do in their research and teaching to serve faith and promote justice? How do our universities proceed as institutions attempting to serve faith and promote justice?

Fr. Arrupc’s and Fr. Kolvcnbach’s calls were not anomalous from but rather grounded deeply in the tradition of Ignatian education that has its roots in pedagogical emphases that emerged out of the experience of Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) as reflected in such documents as the Spiritual Exercises (Fleming, 1978) and the Ratio Studiorum (Pavur, 2005). The Spiritual Exercises was written by Ignatius “to help others guide men and women through the experience of an interior freedom that leads to the faithful service of others in service of God” (Characteristics of Jesuit Education, para. 175). The first part of the Spiritual Exercises is to recognize oneself as a sinner and that God still loves the individual, while the second is to respond in praise, reverence, and service to God through deeds that imitate “Christ Jesus, the Son of God, the man for others par excellence” (Ignatian Pedagogy, 1993, para. 136). Ignatian pedagogy attempts to reflect the movements of the Spiritual Exercises to promote what has come to be known as cura personalis, attention or care to the whole person. According to the International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education (1986),

the aim of Jesuit education has never been simply the acquisition of a store of information and skills or preparation for a career, though these are important in themselves and to emerging Christian leaders. The ultimate aim of Jesuit ... education is, rather, that full growth of the person which leads to action; action that is suffused with the spirit and presence of Jesus Christ, the man for others.

(p. 167)

To educate students for freedom to serve God and the world, five elements of an approach to teaching emerged based on the Spiritual Exercises: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. Articulated in the Ratio Studiorum of 1599, it is clear that Jesuit schools, through these teaching approaches, are to develop not only their students’ intellectual capacity, but also their spiritual lives and moral character as a “collaborative process between teachers and students [that] encourages discovery and self-exploration as a lifelong commitment to learning and action” (Boryczka & Petrino, 2012, p. 78). Taken together, these teaching elements engaged students and teachers

with the world around them, and in the critical evaluation of personal values and roles within a world system and global economy, in such a way that they see themselves not as receivers but as producers of knowledge, not as takers but as actors for the larger good.


As a Jesuit university grounded in and directed by Ignatian pedagogy, Boston College has tried to exemplify the service of faith and the promotion of justice. In 2017, Boston College launched a new strategic plan that continues to emphasize BC’s focus on forming students intellectually, spiritually, and socially. To sharpen this focus, the plan includes four strategic directions—re-envisioning liberal arts education, enhancing the university’s commitment to formation, expanding support for scholarship and research aligned with BC’s mission, and increasing the university’s presence and impact in the world—all of which touch upon issues of formation and social justice at the highest levels of intellectual exploration. In short, “these commitments reflect the University’s distinctive heritage and will continue to shape its mission and ethos in the future” (Ever to Excel: Advancing Boston College’s Mission, 2017).

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