When the news broke ten days ago announcing Tim Kaine as the Democrat party V.P. nominee, now candidate, one of the things that was highlighted about his biography was that he was Jesuit-educated in a high school in Kansas City and also that he volunteered at a Jesuit mission in Honduras in the 1980s. The media, and Kaine himself, acknowledged that there was something about his education worthy of being mentioned. Surprisingly, almost nobody highlighted the fact that the Republican candidate for the presidency was also Jesuit-educated. For two years, Donald Trump attended the Jesuit university in New York City. Curious, but not surprising.
Jesuits have been educating young people for nearly five centuries. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Catholic order, did not want to build schools as a ministry of the newly founded Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. He thought that doing so would decrease the religious order’s missionary impulse. Nevertheless, by the founder’s death in 1556, more than 1,000 Jesuits were working in schools spread in four continents. Jesuit education is one that meant to meld together pietas and eruditio, faith and passion for learning. Since the beginning of their educative mission, the Jesuits searched for a humanist approach to education; men and women are in the very center of Jesus’ Gospel, therefore any education properly Catholic and Jesuit should place this truth as its organizing principle. These ideas as well as a distinctive pedagogical method were represented in the 1599 Ratio Studiorum, the curriculum the Jesuits utilized in each of its educational institutions around the globe until the 1960s. It was designed as a means to create educated generations of followers of Jesus whose words and actions embodied the values of the Gospel.
In 1972, following the outcomes of the Second Vatican Council, the Jesuits updated their mission stating that they will be proclaimers of the faith that seeks justice in this world. This declaration infused the educative mission of the Jesuits around the world, not only in primary and secondary education, but also at the college level. They created socioeconomically integrated schools, schools for underserved communities, education for workers, refugees, while continue serving elites around the globe. As Pedro Arrupe, superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983 noted so famously, students of Jesuit schools are to be men and women for others. In other words, they are expected to be conscious, competent, compassionate, and committed persons, as expressions of a human excellence. This human excellence is what Jesuits believe is God’s dream for every human person.
What came of the formation the two candidates received during their time in Jesuit schools? Kaine put his education and the values and principles he learned at the service of other people. He continues to do so in the contested political arena where debates and issues tend to get blurred. Those are the places where the Jesuit-educated are expected to be. On the other hand, although he was not exposed to a thorough college education with the Jesuits, Trump is a clear example of a failure of Jesuit education. He has been showing day after day, especially in the ongoing election year, attitudes that are far away from any concept of human excellence. With the risk of being unfair, I have to say that it is difficult to observe any kind compassion, conscience, and even competency in him.
Jesuits can rejoice at the success of what their education can do for a person and for the world, but at the same time, they should assume responsibility and reflect when their education, evidently in this case, lacks such fruit.