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The Jesuit Model Of Education

Friday, August 2nd, 2019 | Academic


by Fr Michael McMahon


[Compiler’s Note. While Fr McMahon extols the virtues of Jesuit Education, he does make some disparaging remarks mainly because he is at odds with current-day Jesuit philosophy.  I make no apologies for quoting selectively. R A Fernandes]


Because we are a Jesuit school we must constantly be asking ourselves, as posed below, are we “doing something incredible, are we teaching and educating and leading and influencing society?”


We remind ourselves that we are not merely teachers or administrative, sporting, or ancillary staff. We are lay collaborators of the Society of Jesus.  We share in the mission of the Jesuits and are duty bound to inculcate the same in the students.  This mission includes

            – to find God in all things

            – to exercise cura personalis in all our dealings with others and to

              seek the Magis in all that we do

            – to pray the Examen

            – to promote the Universal Apostolic Principles, namely

                        – Promoting Discernment and The Spiritual Exercises

                        – Walking with the Excluded

                        – Caring for Our Common Home

                        – Journeying with Youth


The following excerpts are from an address given by Fr Michael McMahon (a non Jesuit) to principals of a group of Catholic Schools in America.



It was a pleasure for me to prepare this presentation on Jesuit education, delving into the wealth of information which the Jesuits have given us over the last four centuries.  At the end of the 19th Century, in a book comparing the Jesuit and Puritan educational systems, the president of a prestigious non-Catholic university presented a violent attack on the Catholic Faith and the Jesuits, but nevertheless admitted that he couldn’t argue the fact the Jesuits were doing something incredible, that they were teaching and educating and leading and influencing society through their education.



The Jesuits were not “band-aid” guys; they were not out to simply patch things up. They set their minds to doing things correctly no matter how long it would take. They were convinced they could not proceed in any other way since this apostolate regarded the education of future generations, of their own men and teachers… By no means did they neglect the “here and now,” but they had a very long-term vision of their education apostolate.

The Ratio Studiorum was fundamental… and making their educational system, possibly the greatest in the history of the world.   The Ratio Studiorum is very Ignatian. It is not a theoretical treatise on education; it is a practical code for establishing and conducting schools… and, critically, the formation of teachers… The heart of any school is its teachers, and that has got to be at the top of the list.



Man is not merely a citizen of this or that country; he is born to be a citizen of heaven. Therefore, in all truth, we can say that the purpose of education is a preparation for life, proximately this life, but ultimately everlasting life. That is why the Jesuits educate.  The glory of our specific vocation as educators is just that; we have the opportunity to form young souls. That is something that principals and teachers need to meditate on constantly; it should be their daily concern.



Here is a remarkable quote from the Ratio Studiorum: “The development of the student’s intellectual capacity is the school’s most characteristic part. However, this development will be defective and even dangerous unless it is strengthened and completed by the training of the will and the formation of the character.”

It is interesting to note that formal religion classes in most of the Jesuit schools were never given more than two hours a week. This is critical, because religion is not just a class at a certain time; religion is everything.

Essentially, education is ultimately apostolic. It is an apostolic mission. We instill in children a knowledge and love of Almighty God… that it is the first principle, that it is not just something they do on Sunday, or something they do in religion class. It is something which is important all of the time —it must penetrate and permeate! The school, the education, the method, the curriculum, whatever it may be: these are means to that end, that they know, love, and serve Almighty God.



The Jesuits call their teaching methodology “the mastery formula.” It contains two steps. The first is self- activity – in other words, getting the student to think. The teachers are not there just to inform … They are there to make them think and help them learn.   Mastery of the subject and well-prepared classes are fundamental in this area, but so is making the classes interesting. The best way to kill everything is to be up there boring the class with monotonous recitation or unprepared, unimaginative lessons.

The second step is the mastery of progressively difficult subject matter —striking the necessary balance between comprehension and progression: children imbued with a true desire to learn tackling ever more challenging material. …the important components to their teaching: pre-election (the proper preparation before studies); repetition; memory work; emulation or competition.


Critical to the Jesuits and to any good school is formation of teachers and their skilful teaching. The teacher is the heart of the educational process… the teachers are the ones with their hands on the clay doing the regular immediate formation. That’s why a bad teacher lacking in either discipline or knowledge causes disasters, the worst being to extinguish the desire of students to learn and to love learning. Be vigilant! Boring teachers, unprepared teachers, warm bodies thrown into a chair because no one else is available —these are the destruction of a school, and not just the destruction of a school, but the destruction of souls entrusted to our care. We can’t do that!

A genuine teacher moves students to action, intellectual or physical, whatever the case may be. To have such teachers is the first means of securing a good education for a student. As the famous saying goes, “Many teach, but few inspire.”


A good education will be determined by the quality of the curriculum. The first guiding principle is that the curriculum achieve formation, not just information. The curriculum is structured to develop the intellectual and moral habits, to form the character.  A soul is not properly formed by the mere accumulation of information. The methodology of Jesuit education was to form a man to train him to think. One of our biggest challenges is to train a young man to think, to analyse. This incapacity to think will be overcome by forming the intellectual and moral habits of a person,

The Jesuits considered the humanities —literature, language, and history —to be the most important thing. The emphasis on these subjects, without absolutely excluding others, of course, contributed to the balanced formation of the human being,


Complementing studies are extra-curricular activities. Things like plays were very important in the Jesuit system. Such activity puts the thing into real life… it is education coming to life, wonderfully complementing classroom experience. The Jesuits were very much for that, with often very elaborate theatrical departments.

Physical education also has an important role in the development of our youth.  Athletics, outdoor sports, and gymnastics do much for the physical health of the students. Besides, it demands and consequently helps to develop quickness of apprehension, steadiness and coolness, self-reliance, self-control, readiness to subordinate individual impulses to a command. In our sports-crazed times, we must remain balanced, shifting neither to one extreme nor the other. Physical education clearly has its place in education, yet must play its proper role in the hierarchy. As always, virtue stands in the middle.


Teachers are more concerned with the formation of the soul, not the intellect alone, the formation of character. Maintaining close relationships is a means of inspiring the students, of forming high ideals, of teaching by example in both the spiritual and in the intellectual orders…. In general, he must both inculcate principles and foster the formation of habit. Each boy in particular must be known intimately and trained individually.


Reflection for all members of the College Family

  1. Ignatian Spirituality challenges us to be fired up about these things.  To what extent can I describe my work/my involvement at College/HH as “fired up”? Do I carry this fire into other spheres of my life?
  2. Where there is not much fire in my life, how can I rekindle that fire?
  3. What more can I do as an educator/OG of, parent/guardian in a Jesuit school?