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Exploring Jesuit Humanism

Conscience, competence, compassion and commitment, not solely as conventionally understood, are the key characteristics of a Jesuit humanism for today, according to Jesuit educationalist Dr David Tuohy SJ.

David Tuohy was the keynote speaker at an education conference in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, on Thursday 22 January. It was organised by the Irish Jesuit 1814-2014 Restoration Committee as part of their ongoing activities marking the 200th anniversary of the Jesuit Restoration.

The event was chaired by historian and broadcaster Dr John Bowman. David’s talk, entitled ‘Learning to Love the World as God Loves It: Jesuit Humanism In Education’, was responded to by Dr Anne Lodge of the Church of Ireland College of Education, and Mr Gerard Foley, Headmaster of Belvedere College SJ. All of their talks feature in this podcast.

In his lecture and Powerpoint presentation, David explored the Renaissance foundations of Jesuit humanism, the impact of the enlightenment, suppression and restoration of the Jesuits, and the present modern-day challenges to this Jesuit humanism which underpins Jesuit education.
The lecture unfolded the richness and depth of a Jesuit humanism rooted in the Ignatian vision of each human being as created by God and invited to co-create the world with him. This entails an inward developing of the gifts and talents of the individual (the student) as well as an outward orientation of sharing the fruits of the flourishing talents in the love and service of God and others.

This vision has ramifications for the role of the teacher which cannot simply be that of imparting knowledge to a vacant vessel. Rather and analogous to a good Spiritual Director, the teacher shares knowledge and fosters the assimilation of that knowledge in each individual as food for their intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth and development. The teacher is a ‘compass’ for rather than a ‘dispenser to’ the student.

The historical vicissitudes of half a millennium exact their own pressures on any such vision. David explored this impact on the evolution of the vision right up to the present age. Geo-political alliances today are based almost entirely on economic considerations and the experience of authority has been well and truly superseded by the individual’s authority of experience.  These challenges notwithstanding, Jesuit schools and colleges are thriving today. The Jesuit humanism based on Ignatius vision of God’s love for the world and its peoples is as necessary today as at any other time in its challenging history.

In her response Dr Anne Lodge, of the Church of Ireland College of Education, highlighted the importance of the way a Jesuit education really fostered the talents, worth and uniqueness of every single student. In terms of a philosophy of education this student-centred approach which values the goodness of each person was not always the dominant vision. She said that when the Jesuits were counter-cultural they were at their best and she noted that today’s culture often put a skewed emphasis on measurable outcomes for students simply summed up as points in the leaving. The counter cultural vision of Jesuit education was therefore much needed.

Gerard Foley, Headmaster of Belvedere College SJ, outlined some of the ways Belvedere students exemplified in practice the theory being talked about. He spoke about the students’ engagement with homeless people in the annual sleepout. He cited the story of one young student who was teaching English to a migrant as part of a joint project with the Jesuit Refugee Service. After a number of weeks he said he’d changed his whole perspective on economic migrants. Mr Foley told the story of the teacher who was sowing a roof-garden on top of the college. “Without ever mentioning God, he’s been teaching the students about the care of the earth, the power of the seed, the beauty of creation”.

In conclusion he referred to Jim Culliton SJ, a former deputy headmaster of Belvedere who used to stand in the corridor and say to the parents he met, “Celebrate the child you have, not the child you hoped to have”.