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Jesuit educational institutions explicitly commit themselves to educating students that are “committed to doing justice” (JSEA 2010) upon graduation and prepared to live lives of justice in the future.  Much of contemporary Western, North American culture opposes this goal.  Secularism, consumerism, hegemony of market rationality, instrumentalization of education, postmodern relativism, and radical individualism all contribute to a context of antagonism toward an Ignatian conception of justice as act and commitment.  Nevertheless Jesuit schools create, implement and sustain multiple methods and programs to further this goal, always insisting that “knowledge is joined to virtue” (ICAJE 1986).

The Ignatian conception of justice, incompatible with secularism, resists reduction to a merely here-and-now, political or ideological agenda and/or method for social change.  The Ignatian vision does seek societal transformation, but in and through the particular Catholic charism of the Society of Jesus.  Jesuit schools exist for the service of faith “of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement” (Arrupe 1973).

They “form men-and-women-for-others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God . . . men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce” (Arrupe).

Love of God and love of neighbor (expressed in acts of justice) cannot be separated.

Pedro Arrupe

Pedro Arrupe

As the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Pedro Arrupe insisted that the “prime educational directive” of the Society’s schools across the globe was to form these “men-and-women-for-others” and “be equal to the demands of justice in the world” (Arrupe).  He acknowledged the difficulty of this enterprise but insisted that it can be done because of “something which lies at the very center of the Ignatian spirit . . . the spirit of constantly seeking the will of God”  (Arrupe).  This does not, however, push Jesuit education out of the world and into a realm of purely abstract or spiritual concerns apart from those of social justice: it is not “a discarnate spiritualism or a secular social activism” (Kolvenbach 2000).  It maintains a creative tension between the material demands of justice and the non-material – spiritual, religious – teloi of a humanity bearing the image and likeness of its Creator.

Consumerism and market rationality are equally problematic because this Ignatian vision of justice challenges graduates to adopt a “firm determination to live much more simply . . . and in this way to stop short, or at least to slow down, the expanding spiral of luxurious living and social competition” (Arrupe 1973).

Jesuit school graduates should be making choices, rooted in the Gospel, which often “conflict with the values of a materialistic society” (JSEA 2010).

Arrupe insisted that graduates refrain from profiting from any unjust enterprise, “reduce privilege in favor of the underprivileged,” and commit to changing societal structures, “not merely resisting unjust structures and arrangements, but actively undertaking to reform them” (Arrupe).  Little room exists here for an uncritical acceptance of capitalism or a crass accumulation of wealth.

All of the above suggests moral, social, spiritual and religious ends of education, and therefore a rejection of attempts to instrumentalize schooling.

Reducing the purposes of education to personal financial or social gain “can contribute to extreme competitiveness and absorption with selfish concerns” (ICJE 1993) that are contrary to an Ignatian vision of justice and work against a Jesuit school graduate’s growing commitment to doing justice.

When education (and all human activity along with it) becomes a tool for having, rather than a fostering of being, dehumanization results.  “We think we can overcome our frustrations by striving to have more, . . . to have ever more and more. . . The downward spiral of ambition, competition, and self-destruction twists and expands unceasingly, with the result that we are chained ever more securely to a progressive, and progressively frustrating, dehumanization”  (Arrupe 1973).  This dehumanization corrodes justice and frustrates even the conception, let alone the attainment, of Jesuit education’s highest goals.

These goals were originally articulated by the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola, and his early companions who, by 1553 were running thirty-three schools across Europe.  Their vision was at once objective and adaptable, normative and expansive.  “They saw in the education of youth the occasion to develop people with the moral imagination (pietas) that conceived and implemented social policies in service to the common good” (Scibilia, et. al. 2009).  This good was neither relative nor subjective, not circumstantially, historically or geographically dependent.  It could not be changed, for if it changed it could neither be aimed at nor achieved.  Thus Ignatian education resists the further spread of postmodern relativism and nihilism.

Chubbuck (2007) insists for critical theory, and so it goes with Ignatian pedagogy, that “radical postmodernism’s wholesale rejection of meta-narratives logically includes a rejection of” the normative conception of justice and the common good integral to Jesuit education.  Further, the erosion of textual authority within postmodernity opens the door for “some of the most unwelcome guests: nihilism, relativism . . . to name but a few – which makes thinking about human emancipation futile” (Rikowski 1996 as quoted in Chubbuck 2007).  Finally, the Biblical roots and character of an Ignatian view of justice precludes accepting postmodern literary deconstruction.  For Jesuit education,

the Bible as it is and has been interpreted by the magisterium of the Catholic Church, remains the authoritative text, as it is a primary way of knowing Jesus Christ who is “the model of human life” (ICAJE 1986) and “the Man-for-Others” (ICJE 1993).

Without Biblical authority – albeit not naively literalistic – justice would be open to manipulation according to personal, societal, and generational whim, thus weakening its critical and emancipatory power.  Impotent justice is no justice at all.

Jesuit education does not, however, uncritically accept Biblical authority or foundations in general.  Reflection and evaluation are integral to Ignatian pedagogy for both teachers and students.  Using “memory, imagination, and emotion” in self-reflection along with regular assessment of the “beliefs, values, attitudes, and entire way of thinking,” (Chubbuck 2007) of both educators and students, Jesuit schools seek to both ensure the potency of justice and action in its pursuit and enter into “an ongoing struggle to recognize and work against the obstacles that block freedom – including the effects of sinfulness” (ICAJE 1986).  Normativity also does not necessitate a narrowing of perspective or judgmental attitude for “a framework of inquiry in which a value system is acquired through the process of wrestling with competing points of view is legitimate” (ICAJE, emphasis in original).

Ignatian pedagogy also seeks to maintain a creative tension between the universal and the particular, the normative and the personal, the communal and the individual.  Jesuit schools insist on both common human experience and individual expression.  By avoiding both a homogeneous conception of the human family that precludes the uniqueness and dignity of each person and an atomistic anthropology that precludes solidarity and a properly social justice, Jesuit schools reject individualism.  We are not beings-for-ourselves, but beings-for-others.  “Yes; gifted with conscience, intelligence, and power each of us is indeed a center.  But a center called to go out of ourselves, to give ourselves to others in love” (Arrupe 1973).  As individuals-in-community, students and graduates of Jesuit schools become uniquely equipped to place their individual talents and gifts at the service of the common good.

In the end, Jesuit education does not define itself through a rejection of certain elements of contemporary society – secularism, individualism, or otherwise – but by affirming “the radical goodness of the world,” (ICAJE 1986, emphasis in original) and humanity within it.  This goodness originates in the God who created and sustains it, the One who is “Supreme Goodness” (ICAJE) itself.  This theological affirmation forms the basis of an anthropological one: the absolute and unconditional ontological goodness of the human person.  Put theologically,

no amount or kind of sin can eliminate the fundamental dignity and immeasurable worth of each individual human person and humanity as a whole.

Thus Jesuit education ensures “the fullest possible development of all of the God-given talents of each individual person as a member of the human community” (ICAJE, emphasis in original).  Justice becomes lived reality in and through our commitments to ensuring this integral human development for all people without limit or condition.  These commitments must manifest as more than merely refraining from injustice.  “One must go further and refuse to play its game, substituting love for self-interest as the driving force of society” (Arrupe 1973).  But this love is no sentimental feeling or nice abstraction “up in the air” (Arrupe).  Love is willing the good of the other.  It ensues in “sowing justice in our world . . . down to the level of reality, the reality of our daily lives” (Arrupe).

This is the challenge of Jesuit institutions: in an often hostile context create the conditions that make possible and encourage students to commit themselves, among other things, to a faith that does justice, to actualizing justice in both intent and action.  But how?  What method(s) can be used and programs implemented?  The answer must be broad enough to be used by all Jesuit schools and adaptable enough to be relevant to particular cultures, situations, disciplines, and styles (ICJE 1993).  It must also speak directly to teachers as well as coaches, moderators, administrators, and staff and be rooted in the distinctive charism of the Jesuits.  Finally, it “must be done . . . with particular regard for the preferential love of the poor which characterizes the mission of the Church today” (ICJE).

The result of many years of individual and communal prayer and reflection on this question produced a universal Ignatian method of education – the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP) – and a myriad of programmatic answers within individual Jesuit schools.

The IPP is Ignatian because it is rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and structures all learning “around the interplay of five elements: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation” (Chubbuck 2007).

Context involves the complex circumstances within which learning occurs: identity, family, friends, peers, culture, geography, politics, economics, media, music, etc.  This “requires that the teacher become as conversant as possible with the life experience of the learner” (ICJE 1993) and build relationships of authenticity and trust.  The Ignatian educator displays cura personalis, care for the individual person, in every encounter with students.

For Ignatius, experience can only be understood by first paying attention to context, and then recognizing experiences’ cognitive and affective dimensions.  “[F]acts, concepts, and principles” (ICJE) are acquired and critically examined, but cognition alone fails to produce commitment or action.  The imagination, senses, and feelings must be engaged to produce a fuller experience that transforms the learner into a doer.  Learning the philosophical formulation of theodicy, for instance, is necessary for grasping the intellectual dimension of human suffering (i.e. suffering as an idea or philosophical problem) but not sufficient to produce an active and free response to a suffering person or community.  Affective experience makes room for response.  This experience might be vicarious (eg., gained through reading, roleplaying, imaginative reflection, or hearing a lecture about the poverty and injustice suffered by many of the residents of the Tenderloin in San Francisco) or direct (eg., service trips to the Tenderloin, sustained immersion into the neighborhood, guest lectures by residents, etc.).  The IPP requires both.

Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP)

Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP)

Reflection following experience allows students to “capture the meaning and essential value of what is being studied” (ICJE).  Prompted by teachers, students use reflection to discover the reasons for their learning, begin to integrate head and heart, grow in awareness of their own internal biases, form their consciences, reorder their priorities, and become more spiritually free (i.e. more willing and able to selflessly respond to the needs of everyone they encounter in acts of justice).  In this way, regular and sustained reflection can be seen as the necessary link between experience and action.  Reflection, guided by Ignatian educators, encourages meta-cognition and promotes both a rootedness in past experience and a readiness of the will to act on behalf of justice in the future.

The dynamism of reflection upon experience leads to action.  Rooted in Ignatius’ own understanding that “love is shown more in deeds than in words,” this action is directed outward toward the benefit of others and the common good.  It involves two steps: “interiorized choices” regarding meaning, priorities, values, resolutions and attitudes that motivate and compel, and “choices externally manifested” (ICJE) consisting of action-for-others in the world consistent with one’s new interior conditions.

Finally, the IPP requires regular evaluation, both of students’ cognitive work, but also and “equally, their growth in attitudes, priorities, and actions” (ICJE).

The most important evaluations of students assess their growth into men-and-women-for-others.

Teachers and administrators gather data, testimony, and self-evaluation to assess students’ commitment to a faith that does justice.  Grades are important, but no more so than virtue.

Ultimately the IPP seeks to integrate the cognitive and affective dimensions of knowledge within the lives of students and direct them toward justice.  A just graduate of a Jesuit school “has acquired considerable knowledge of the many needs of local, national, and global communities and is preparing for the day when he or she will take a place in these communities as a competent, concerned and responsible member.”  (JSEA 2010)  This knowledge includes the self-awareness of internal tendencies toward selfishness, scholarly understanding of “human rights, population displacement, resource distribution, war/terrorism, etc., and their impact on human communities,” the practice of environmentally sustainable lifestyles, and a critical grasp of the “structural roots of injustice in social institutions, attitudes, and customs” (JSEA)

Jesuit schools also institutionalize their commitment to doing justice programmatically.  Though the programs at particular schools vary in type, structure, and style, certain elements are expected of all Jesuit schools.  All must explicitly teach justice, act justly, and manifest “its solidarity with the poor by offering generous amounts of financial aid based on need and by its efforts to recruit and retain students from families of limited means” (JSEA 2011).  These commitments are met programmatically in employee compensation packages, fundraising and institutional advancement, admissions policies, service programs, immersion trips, retreat programs, marketing and external relations, even in fine/performing arts and athletic departments.

Because justice is integral to Jesuit education, the curricula of every academic department – not just religious studies or theology – should be designed in ways that aid in the development of men-and-women-for-others and address the cultural context within which this entire enterprise is attempted:

secularism, consumerism, hegemony of market rationality, instrumentalization of education, postmodern relativism, and radical individualism.

These cultural challenges, despite their antagonism, are not threats but rather opportunities for students at Jesuit schools to engage with their world so as to transform it.  “Believing that God is active in all creation and in all human history, Jesuit education promotes dialogue between faith and culture” (ICAJE 1986, emphasis in original).  This dialogue then creates space for both critique and affirmation.  It allows students to become more free: free from the hegemony of cultural values and free to become men-and-women-for-others and pursue a faith that does justice. The IPP provides a method and the programs of Jesuit schools provide structure to students’ lives that promotes justice as more than an attitude or occasional practice, but a habitual and life-long praxis in the world.


Arrupe, P., & International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe. (1974). Men for others. Rome: S.J. Press and Information Office, International Secretariat of Jesuit Education.

Chubbuck, S. M. (2007). Socially Just Teaching and the Complementarity of Ignatian Pedagogy and Critical Pedagogy. Christian Higher Education, 6(3), 239-265.

International Center for Jesuit Education (ICJE). (1986), Ignatian pedagogy: A practical approach. Rome: International Center for Jesuit Education.

International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education (ICAJE). (1987), Go forth and teach: The characteristics of Jesuit education. Washington, D.C.: Jesuit Secondary Education Association.

Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA). (2010), Profile of the graduate at graduation. Chicago: Loyola Press.

Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA). (2011), What makes a Jesuit school Jesuit?: the relationship between Jesuit schools and the Society of Jesus: Distinguishing criteria for verifying the Jesuit nature of contemporary high schools. Chicago: Loyola Press.

Scibilia, D. P., Giamario, P., & Rogers, M. (2009). Learned piety: Education for justice and the common good in jesuit secondary education. Peace & Change, 34(1), 49-61.