A developed mind takes us on a path to God

  • September 15, 2011

Some years ago, at a graduation ceremony at Gonzaga High School in St. John’s, Nfld., Fr. Len Altilia was struck by the opening line of a student’s valedictorian address.

“This school has been our home where we have felt at peace, respected and cared for,” said the student.

Altilia recalls the moment with pride. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow! we’ve succeeded,’ ” he said.

Altilia was not just pleased by the success of another class of graduates, but by the student’s recognition that his education was about more than academics. It was also about respect and caring, and about developing concern for the well being of others. Those have been guiding principles of Jesuit education for 500 years.

Education has always been a focal point of Jesuit ministry in Canada. In the 16th century, Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola advocated development of the whole person — the mind, body and soul — through an education that nurtured healthy physical habits and a loving relationship with Jesus. His approach might be summarized as: academics, exercise, culture and prayer. French Jesuits schooled in the Loyolan tradition brought those values to Canada in the 17th century and on that foundation they built Canada’s first schools.

Three hundred years later, Altilia was acknowledging that those founding principles remain intact. He is just one of many Jesuits who have dedicated their lives to teaching. After Gonzaga, he taught for 25 years in Catholic schools in Toronto (Brebeuf College high school) and Montreal (Loyola High School). Wherever he went, he noted the Jesuit emphasis on educating the whole person and developing students who expressed concern for the well-being of others.

In the formation of young people, Altilia said Jesuits strive to make students realize “they will have a responsibility and ability to make the world a more humane and caring and compassionate place by the application of their skills.” That message was delivered to him in the 1970s in a talk given by then-Jesuit Superior General Fr. Pedro Arrupe. Arrupe said the test is not in the number of professionals turned out, but how well graduating students infuse their lives with Gospel values that promote faith and justice.

The history of Jesuit education in Canada began in 1635 with the opening in Quebec City of  the Collège-des-Jesuites. It was founded by St. Antoine Daniel, who was martyred 13 years later. The school would last until the British conquest of 1759 and evolve into Laval University, North America’s oldest university. Its first famous alumnus was explorer Louis Joliet who, with Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, was the first non-native person to reach the Mississippi River.

The Collège-des-Jesuites served as a model for at least 14 other educational institutions across Canada. Montreal’s Collège Ste-Marie, opened in 1848, spawned three other schools, Loyola (1896), St. Ignace (1927) and Jean-de-Brébeuf (1928). Those were followed by English colleges and high schools opened in Sudbury, Edmonton, Regina, Kingston, Winnipeg, Halifax, St. John’s and Toronto. The operation of many of those schools has since been passed to lay administrators, but the Jesuits remain involved in seven schools: Loyola High School and Jean-de-Brébeuf College high school in Montreal; Regis College at the University of Toronto; St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg; Campion College at the University of Regina; St. Bonaventure’s College in St. John’s; and Mother Teresa Middle School that opened this month in Regina.

Another aspect of the Jesuits’ involvement in education is research. At the University of British Columbia’s St. Mark’s College, Fr. John McCarthy lectures in ecological theology. He is also the college chaplain. During the summer, McCarthy conducts research on lichen biodiversity for the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation.

In Toronto, Fr. Rob Allore is a research scientist at Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute specializing in genetics and the development of the nervous system. He also teaches in the human biology department of the University of Toronto.

“As a teaching order, Jesuits have long held up the development of our mental faculties as a path to God and a means to a better understanding of ourselves and our neighbour,” Allore said.

“I regard the scientific research that occupies so many of my waking hours to be a particular expression of this respect for the intellectual life. As a medical researcher, I see the work that I do as being linked intimately to the healing ministries that occupied so much of Jesus’ time (on) Earth.” 

The Jesuit education philosophy that combines academics, faith and social justice remains evident throughout Jesuit schools. For example, at St. Bonaventure’s College, an independent Catholic high school in St. John’s, Nfld., for students from kindergarten to Grade 12, that holistic education approach is evident in regular student involvement in inner-city charitable initiatives.

“What we try to bring across is to train young people to be young men and women for others, so when they graduate they are excellent in academics and care for other people,” said Fr. Winston Rye, the school’s first principal.

Jesuit alumni you may know

A pillar of Jesuit ministry is a commitment to education. Since the 1635 founding of the Collège-des-Jésuites in Quebec City, Jesuit colleges and high schools have graduated thousands of students, including dozens of people who rose to prominence across all sectors of Canadian society. Here is a sampling of Canadian-born, Jesuit-trained laymen.

Brébeuf College, Montreal
o Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, 1968-1979; 1980-1984.
o Robert Bourassa, Premier of Quebec, 1970-1976; 1985-1994.

Loyola High School, Montreal
o Georges P. Vanier, Governor General of Canada, 1959-1967.
o Don Ferguson and Roger Abbott, stars of radio and TV program Royal Canadian Air Farce, 1973-2010.
o Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, 2006 to present.
o Sam Roberts, Juno award-winning rock musician.

Brébeuf College School, Toronto
o Mike Murphy, former NHL player and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
o Joseph Boyden, Giller Award winning author of Through Black Spruce and Three Day Road.
o Kevin Sullivan, film director of Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea.
o Terence Leon, president of Leon Company furniture stores.

St. Paul’s High School, Winnipeg
o  Angus Reid, founder of polling company Angus Reid Group (now Ipsos-Reid).
o Gary Doer, Premier of Manitoba, 1999-2009, and currently Canada’s ambassador to the United States.
o John Ferguson, Jr., general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2003-2008.

Catholic Register


Jesuits in Canada - 400 years of Service - Catholic Register special front cover


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