10 Greatest Lessons the Jesuits Taught Me
I first met the Jesuits in 1962 when I was a first year high school student at the Ateneo de Naga, a school founded by the Jesuits in 1940 at the invitation of then Bishop Pedro P. Santos of the Diocese of Nueva Caceres.
The Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, was founded by St. Ignatius de Loyola in 1540 with the approval of Pope Paul III. Like any religious order, the Society of Jesus is not exempt from religious and political controversies.
The Jesuits were suppressed in Western Europe with the approval of Pope Clement XIV in 1773 for reasons that ranged from social to political involvement to a web of intrigues. It was in 1814, after forty-one years, when the Society of Jesus was restored by Pope Pius VII.
But with regard to things that matter, I‘ve learned from the Jesuits certain things that are unbelievably lasting and make for a good life.
1. IT’S OK TO HAVE FUN. In high school, we wanted to have a good time. We learned how to smoke without our parents knowing it. We danced through the night even if some of us were hopelessly out of step. We learned how to drink; our favorite was a concoction of beer, gin and coke. But we were taught by our Jesuit mentors to keep things under control. Thus, after a night of drunken revelry, I and my classmates would go home to avoid any trouble. We were encouraged to socialize with the girls from a nearby catholic school through joint night shindigs on weekends. If our friendship with the opposite sex went beyond friendship and began to adversely affect our emotional state, the person we could bare our souls to was our high school counselor, Fr. Jack Phelan, SJ, who was always ready to guide us to the right path.
2. FRIENDSHIP MATTERS. The friendship that we forged as students has lasted through the years. When I was a Jesuit scholastic teaching in Ateneo de Davao from 1973 – 1975, the first call I got, to my surprise, came from two former high school classmates who wanted to see me. When I visited Manila with no place to stay, a long-time friend invited me to stay in his home, a case of “mi casa es su casa.” I once visited Fr. James O’Brien, a former Jesuit teacher, at the faculty house in Ateneo de Manila. He offered me a bottle of beer and we spent almost an hour reminiscing our Ateneo days, laughing at times on the padre’s style of discipline that could make any 15-year old student shiver in fear. When we had our high school Golden Jubilee celebration in 2016, the feeling was not so much to celebrate our successes, but to renew our friendship. When given the chance, we get together where we renew old ties, endlessly recall our shared memories, and laugh at our fantasies, sexual or otherwise, that stemmed from our innocence.
3. DISCIPLINE BUILDS CHARACTER. If there’s one thing I learned from my 4-year stint at the Ateneo de Naga High School that continues to impact my life is paying the consequences for my action. Paying the consequences for one’s transgression or inappropriate behavior meant “jug and post” – an after-school form of punishment. Jug meant copying a sentence or paragraph a couple hundred times. Post involved physical punishment that ranged from cutting grass to marching under the heat of the afternoon sun. Post was designed for a more serious offense. One could end up doing “jug and post” for various reasons: giggling while a teacher was lecturing, tardiness, getting a bit rowdy during the morning assembly, etc. But no one really complained. To complain was considered unmanly. As strict as the Jesuits way of disciplining was, there was no element of vindictiveness. The main purpose was to build character. The thinking was: if I am out of order, I deserve to pay for it.
4. APPRECIATE YOUR TEACHERS. I still fondly remember all of my teachers by their monikers, mannerisms, and quirkiness: Fr. Loloy Cuerquis, SJ, and his habitual use of words like atrocious, abominable and redundant that stuck in our minds; Fr. Andy Villanueva, SJ, and his impeccable knowledge of English Literature; Fr. Manny Non, SJ, and his definition of time as a tiny toothpick floating in the ocean of eternity; Fr. James O’Brien, SJ, and his red face and loud voice when angry. Some of our teachers were overly strict. Others were funny. Some were kind. Others appeared to be cranky. But one thing was sure. They spent hundreds of hours molding us. They had our best interest in their minds. I never had the chance to show my appreciation to all my teachers until years later when many of them were no longer around to hear it.
5. PLAY SPORTS. At the end of our classes in the afternoon, we stayed on campus to play our favorite sports. It could be any sports: table tennis, softball, volleyball, etc. My favorite was basketball. The Jesuits wanted us to internalize the meaning of the Latin phrase, “mens sana in corpore sano” (A sound mind in a sound body). A student is intellectually healthy only when one is physically fit. Sports teaches team work and discipline. It builds endurance and character. It reduces stress and improves physical health. The message was sportsmanship is an important life skill.
6. STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE. Magis is a Latin word that means “more” or “to a greater degree.” The word is commonly used in Jesuit circles to mean doing more for Christ, doing more for others, always doing the greater good and not just what is good. The concept of Magis is one of the hallmarks of Jesuit education where the students are challenged to always do more. As students, we were expected by our teachers to do more by striving for excellence be it in academics, athletics, dramatics, or whatever our field of interest was, and this carried on when we became professionals.
7. BE A MAN – OR WOMAN – FOR OTHERS. Another Latin phrase that is associated with the Jesuit philosophy of education is cura personalis. It means “care for the whole self or person.” But attending a Jesuit school goes beyond simply educating the whole person, important as it is. We were made aware in and outside the classroom that the purpose of education was not only to equip us with the skills necessary to better ourselves, but also to better the lives of others. Simply put, we were taught to be other-centered, and not self-centered. In the end, be Christ-like, always ready to help especially those in need.
8. FIND GOD IN ALL THINGS. God is present in everything. We encounter God in our relationships, in our parents, in our family, in our friends, in our antagonists, in our prayers, in our academic pursuits, in our moments of despair, in moments of silence, in suffering, in nature, and in our everyday life. God is in every place. We just have to reflect and find God in the events and people that we encounter everyday.
9. LEARN TO SACRIFICE. Jesuits are best known as educators, scholars, writers, prominent theologians, retreat masters, scientists, etc. But often forgotten is how this group of men has sacrificed a lot in protecting human rights and working for justice. In fact, some of them have lost their lives because of their social justice work, like the six Jesuits who were assassinated in El Salvador in 1989 because they spoke against the government. Fr. Godofredo Alingal, SJ, our former high school principal, suffered the same fate in 1981 when he was shot by the military in Kibawe, Bukidnon, during the martial law days for organizing the farmers and denouncing electoral fraud. Fr. Stan Swamy, SJ, of India was jailed by the government in 2020 because he was championing the rights of the indigenous people in eastern India’s Jharkhand state. He died in prison in 2021 at the age of 84. We all want a just and peaceful world, but we sometimes are afraid to make sacrifices and find God in the struggles. Jesuits are usually good at teaching by example, by how they live the “man for others” mantra, whatever the cost is.
10. DO EVERYTHING FOR GOD. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG) is translated as “For the Greater Glory of God.” This is the motto of the Jesuits. Doing everything for God is perhaps the best compliment that we can give ourselves. In high school, I really never understood what AMDG meant. It was not until I took the 30-day spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that I understood what AMDG meant – but not fully. I still wonder and search for answers on how to fully live this motto. All I know, for now, is it can be a remarkable gift to even just give it a try, “knowing that I am doing Your will” (From St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity). But more importantly, it’s worth living it.
HAPPY EASTER TO ONE AND ALL!