The National Catholic Review
Peter-Hans Kolvenbach

Representatives from the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States met at Santa Clara University on Oct. 5-8, 2000, to discuss justice in Jesuit higher education. It was the 25th anniversary of the historic commitment made by the Society of Jesus at its 32nd General Congregation, held in Rome from Dec. 2, 1974, to March 7, 1975, to make the service of faith and the promotion of justice the integrating principle of all their works worldwide.

While the Jesuit institutions have been quite successful at encouraging students to volunteer on social projects, integrating concerns for justice and faith into research and curriculum has been more challenging. Faculty members often do research on issues of justice and injustice, but campus-wide efforts to collaborate on curriculum and dialogue around justice are only just beginning. The conference presented a variety of programs at the Jesuit institutions that have achieved some success in moving these issues to the center of the life of the university.

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., the Jesuit superior general, addressed the issues of faith and justice with remarkable depth and clarity. The delegates later voted overwhelmingly to make his remarks the basis for the strategic efforts they would make on their home campuses. The following are excerpts from his address. The complete text is available at: http://www.scu.edu/news/releases/1000/kolvenbach_speech.html.

Twenty-five years ago, 10 years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Jesuit delegates from around the world gathered at the 32nd General Congregation, to consider how the Society of Jesus was responding to the deep transformation of all church life that was called for and launched by Vatican II.

After much prayer and deliberation, the congregation slowly realized that the entire Society of Jesus in all its many works was being invited by the Spirit of God to set out on a new direction. The overriding purpose of the Society of Jesus, namely the service of faith, must also include the promotion of justice. This new direction was not confined to those already working with the poor and marginalized in what was called the social apostolate. Rather, this commitment was to be a concern of our whole life and a dimension of all our apostolic endeavors. So central to the mission of the entire Society was this union of faith and justice that it was to become the integrating factor of all the Society’s works, and in this light great attention was to be paid in evaluating every work, including educational institutions.

I myself attended the 32nd General Congregation, representing the Province of the Near East, where for centuries the apostolic activity of the Jesuits has concentrated on education in a famous university and some outstanding high schools. Of course some Jesuits worked in very poor villages, refugee camps or prisons, and some fought for the rights of workers, immigrants and foreigners; but this was not always considered authentic, mainstream Jesuit work. In Beirut we were well aware that our medical school, staffed by very holy Jesuits, was producing, at least at that time, some of the most corrupt citizens in the city, but this was taken for granted. The social mood of the explosive Near East did not favor a struggle against sinful, unjust structures. The liberation of Palestine was the most important social issue. The Christian churches had committed themselves to many works of charity, but involvement in the promotion of justice would have tainted them by association with leftist movements and political turmoil.

The situation I describe in the Near East was not exceptional in the worldwide Society at that time. I was not the only delegate who was ignorant of matters pertaining to justice and injustice. The 1971 Synod of Bishops had prophetically declared: Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel, or, in other words, of the church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation, but few of us knew what this meant in our concrete circumstances.

Earlier, in 1966, Father Pedro Arrupe [1907-91, who was the Jesuit general superior from 1965 to 1983] had pointed out to the Latin American provincials how the socio-economic situation throughout the continent contradicted the Gospel, and from this situation rises the moral obligation of the Society to rethink all its ministries and every form of its apostolates to see if they really offer a response to the urgent priorities which justice and social equity call for. Many of us failed to see the relevance of his message to our situation. But please note that Father Arrupe did not ask for the suppression of the apostolate of education in favor of social activity. On the contrary, he affirmed that even an apostolate like educationat all levelswhich is so sincerely wanted by the Society and whose importance is clear to the entire world, in its concrete forms today must be the object of reflection in the light of the demands of the social problem.

Perhaps the incomprehension or reluctance of some of us delegates was one reason why G.C. 32 finally took a radical stand. With a passion both inspiring and disconcerting, the general congregation coined the formula, the service of faith and the promotion of justice, and used it adroitly to push every Jesuit work and every individual Jesuit to make a choice, providing little leeway for the fainthearted. Many inside and outside the Society were outraged by the promotion of justice. As Father Arrupe rightly perceived, his Jesuits were collectively entering upon a more severe way of the cross, which would surely entail misunderstandings and even opposition on the part of civil and ecclesiastical authorities, many good friends and some of our own members. Today, 25 years later, this option has become integral to our Jesuit identity, to the awareness of our mission, and to our public image in both church and society.

The summary expression the service of faith and the promotion of justice has all the characteristics of a world-conquering slogan using a minimum of words to inspire a maximum of dynamic vision, but at the risk of ambiguity. Let us examine, first the service of faith, then the promotion of justice.

A Spiritual Problem

Injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and its solution requires a spiritual conversion of each one’s heart and a cultural conversion of our global society so that humankind, with all the powerful means at its disposal, might exercise the will to change the sinful structures afflicting our world. The yearly Human Development Report of the United Nations is a haunting challenge to look critically at basic conditions of life in the United States and the 175 other nations that share our one planet.

Such is the world in all its complexity, with great global promises and countless tragic betrayals. Such is the world in which Jesuit institutions of higher education are called to serve faith and promote justice.

Formation and Learning

Today’s predominant ideology reduces the human world to a global jungle whose primordial law is the survival of the fittest. Students who subscribe to this view want to be equipped with well-honed professional and technical skills in order to compete in the market and secure one of the relatively scarce fulfilling and lucrative jobs available. This is the success which many students (and parents!) expect.

All American universities, ours included, are under tremendous pressure to opt entirely for success in this sense. But what our students wantand deserveincludes but transcends this worldly success based on marketable skills. The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become.

For 450 years Jesuit education has sought to educate the whole person intellectually and professionally, psychologically, morally and spiritually. But in the emerging global reality, with its great possibilities and deep contradictions, the whole person is different from the whole person of the Counter-Reformation, the Industrial Revolution or the 20th century. Tomorrow’s whole person cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world. Tomorrow’s whole person must have, in brief, a well-educated solidarity.

We must therefore raise our Jesuit educational standard to educate the whole person of solidarity for the real world. Solidarity is learned through contact rather than through concepts, as the Holy Father said recently at an Italian university conference. When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.

Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering and engage it constructively. They should learn to perceive, think, judge, choose and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed. Campus ministry does much to foment such intelligent, responsible and active compassion, compassion that deserves the name solidarity.

Our universities also boast a splendid variety of in-service programs, outreach programs, insertion programs, off-campus contacts and hands-on courses. These should not be too optional or peripheral, but at the core of every Jesuit university’s program of studies.

Our students are involved in every sort of social actiontutoring dropouts, demonstrating in Seattle, serving in soup kitchens, promoting pro-life, protesting against the School of the Americasand we are proud of them for it. But the measure of Jesuit universities is not what our students do but who they become and the adult Christian responsibility they will exercise in the future toward their neighbor and their world. For now, the activities they engage in, even with much good effect, are for their formation. This does not make the university a training camp for social activists. Rather, the students need close involvement with the poor and the marginal now, in order to learn about reality and become adults of solidarity in the future.

The University and Justice

In the words of G.C. 34, a Jesuit university must be faithful to both the noun university and to the adjective Jesuit. To be a university requires dedication to research, teaching and the various forms of service that correspond to its cultural mission. To be Jesuit requires that the university act in harmony with the demands of the service of faith and promotion of justice found in Decree 4 of G.C. 32.

The first way, historically, that our universities began living out their faith-justice commitment was through their admissions policies, affirmative action for minorities and scholarships for disadvantaged students; and these continue to be effective means. An even more telling expression of the Jesuit university’s nature is found in policies concerning hiring and tenure. As a university it is necessary to respect the established academic, professional and labor norms, but as Jesuit it is essential to go beyond them and find ways of attracting, hiring and promoting those who actively share the mission.

I believe that we have made considerable and laudable Jesuit efforts to go deeper and further: we have brought our Ignatian spirituality, our reflective capacities, some of our international resources, to bear. Good results are evident, for example, in the decree Jesuits and University Life of the last general congregation and in this very conference on Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education; and good results are hoped for from the Higher Education Committee working on Jesuit criteria.

Paraphrasing Ignacio Ellacuría [one of six Jesuits murdered at the Jesuit University in San Salvador in 1989], it is the nature of every university to be a social force, and it is the calling of a Jesuit university to take conscious responsibility for being such a force for faith and justice. Every Jesuit academy of higher learning is called to live in a social reality and to live for that social reality, to shed university intelligence upon it and to use university influence to transform it. Thus Jesuit universities have stronger and different reasons than many other academic and research institutions for addressing the contemporary world as it unjustly exists and for helping to reshape it in the light of the Gospel.

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. is the Jesuit superior general.