The Benefits of a Jesuit Education
Most universities claim to prepare students for the rest of their lives, but all they really do is prepare them for jobs.
By Tim Philbin, College of the Holy Cross
The four years you spend at college are arguably the most formative ones of your life.
How often have you heard that college is a “time to figure out who you are,” “try new things” or something along those lines? Indeed, college is a tantalizing taste of the freedom that is to come along with adulthood; it is where you ultimately decide what kind of person you want to be. Yet, there is very little time, energy or expense devoted to the kind of education that takes place outside of the classroom.
Sure, when it comes to something “practical” like chemistry, political science or history, universities compete viciously to be the elite of the elite, but when it comes to matters like inner reflection, vocational discernment or finding meaning in everyday life, universities are, by and large, profoundly unhelpful.
It is a strange irony that colleges claim to prepare students for adult life, yet only educate them in the things least important to their actual happiness. When asked the question, “How joyful, stressed, angry, affectionate and sad were you yesterday?” rich people were no more likely to report being happy than poor people. If colleges want to be able to claim to prepare students for adult life, then they cannot continue to neglect the things that actually determine the degree to which one finds meaning and fulfillment in life. In other words, it’s a problem that you can graduate from college with deep expertise in your chosen field of study, but with a knowledge of the inner spiritual life that has all the depth of a vague and platitudinous Instagram quote.
This is where Jesuit education comes in.
Jesuits engage in what is known as Ignatian spirituality, a series of spiritual exercises designed to awaken one to the presence of God in one’s life. The Jesuits like to describe themselves as “contemplatives in action”; though deeply thoughtful and spiritual, they are also engaged in the task of practically addressing the problems in the world, and as such they are heavily involved in a variety of humanitarian and educational efforts all across the globe.
Though the Jesuits did not invent the university, some of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the world are Jesuit schools. Some Jesuit schools date all the way back to the 16th century, so they have had quite a while to figure out a thing or two about higher education.
Jesuit education has some compelling answers to the problem of higher education that I have pointed out, ones that I think you will find compelling irrespective of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof). It is certainly possible to fill a whole book with the benefits of a Jesuit education, but for the purposes of this article, I will simply list three.
Cura personalis is a Latin phrase meaning “care for the whole person.” Jesuit schools recognize that a happy, fulfilled, meaningful life is a balanced one. One cannot develop any part of oneself to the detriment of any other part. In other words, everything belongs in its proper place.
One’s development should occur evenly and harmoniously in the physical, mental and spiritual spheres. Jesuit colleges tend to allow for development in all three; at Holy Cross, where I am currently a sophomore, there is ready access to athletic facilities, rigorous academics and spiritual retreats at various intervals. No part of the human person is ignored, which allows students to find a deeper sense of balance and fulfillment.
Magis is a Latin word simply meaning “more,” but the simplicity of the word belies the true depth of the concept. The core principle at the heart of magis is always striving to be better. It is often said, “The race to quality has no finish line.” This phrase is both ubiquitous and platitudinous, but it has a deep and often overlooked meaning.
Human beings are by their nature flawed; mistakes are a necessary part of living on Earth. It’s easy to allow this reality to stop you, to give in to the inevitability of errors and become satisfied with yourself as you are. Magis is a reminder not to slip into this stagnation. It is a reminder that human frailty is not a reason to give up on yourself. You can always be better, and magis tells you to keep trying.
Men and Women For and With Others
Another key component of Jesuit education is service. In college it is very easy to become insulated from the outside world, and in some ways that’s an advantage. College is a wonderful privilege and should be treated as one.
But the dark side to this sense of insulation is that it encourages students to forget about the outside world and the calamities that often occur within it. Hunger, disease and poverty are deeply uncomfortable realities that college students have the luxury of forgetting. Many people are not so lucky.
A proper Jesuit education fights this sense of complacency. Students have a wide array of service opportunities, from trips to far-flung, impoverished areas of the world to homeless shelters just a few blocks from campus. For example, I tutored disadvantaged students at a nearby middle school in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is this part of Jesuit education that reminds students that an education is not just a tool for personal financial gain, but rather a gift that one can use for the betterment of others.