As many of you know, I teach one course a semester at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. I have been doing that, and have greatly enjoying doing that, since August 2006, so I am now in my fifteenth semester there. How time flies!
Founded in 1910 as Rockhurst College, it became a university in 1999 and is one of 28 member institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. The oldest and most prestigious member of that organization is Georgetown University, founded in 1789.
The Society of Jesus (S.J.), whose members are usually called Jesuits, is a Catholic Order founded by Ignatius Loyola and officially approved six years later by Pope Paul III in 1540. It is currently the largest male Order in the Roman Catholic Church with about 17,500 members worldwide.
Ignatius, whose real name was Iñigo López de Loyola, was born in the Basque region of Spain on October 27, 1491. (Loyola was the name of the village where he was born, not a “family name,” although it is often used that way now.)
As a young man, Ignatius was a knight and was wounded in battle in 1521—a month after Luther had declared “Here I stand” at the Imperial Diet of Worms in Germany.
While recovering, Ignatius turned his attention to spiritual matters. This resulted in his writing “Spiritual Exercises” in 1522-24. After recuperating, he ended up at Paris University where he and six university friends formed the Society of Jesus on August 15, 1534.
|Statue of Ignatius at Rockhurst U.|
Before starting to teach at Rockhurst, I knew little about Ignatius or the Jesuits. (I was a big admirer, though, of Father Gabriel, the impressive young Jesuit missionary in the superlative 1986 movie “The Mission.”)
And I did know about Francis Xavier, one of the original seven Jesuits and the first Jesuit missionary. In 1549 he became the first Christian missionary to set foot in Japan.
As I have learned more about them, my appreciation for both Ignatius and the Jesuits has grown. Earlier this year I read Margaret Silf’s popularly done, and somewhat quixotic, book “Just Call Me López: Getting to the Heart of Ignatius of Loyola” (2012). (This might be a book some of you would enjoy reading if you want to learn more about Ignatius.)
Perhaps the primary popularizer of the Jesuits in the U.S. at this time is James Martin (S.J., b. 1960). In addition to his highly readable “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life” (2010) in which he explains how Ignatius helps people with practical spirituality, from time to time he also appears on “The Colbert Report.”
Some of the notable Jesuits you may have heard of include Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Daniel Berrigan, and John Dear (about whom I want to post an article soon). Of course the most famous Jesuit of all is now Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.
Ignatius’ main life principle became the Jesuit motto: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (“For the greater glory of God”). I use this on the introductory page of the PowerPoint slides I use for each class period at RU.
Even though I am not a Jesuit and have several distinctly different doctrinal beliefs, I admire the sincerity and spiritual commitment of Ignatius and am not reluctant to use his words as a suitable expression for my work at a Jesuit university.
And I am happy to post this in appreciation of Ignatius and the Jesuits.