to see what his students have become
By J.M. Das, SJ

Last month I was invited to the retirement function of one of my students. He hailed from a remote village in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, India and a first generation graduate from an economically backward community. Though rustic, quiet and unassuming in nature, he had the grit to come up in life. He exhibited signs of leadership in taking up responsibilities in the hostel. I clearly saw the Ignatian principle of ‘magis’ inspiring him to take up certain initiatives. His ‘solidarity and kinship’ with the larger society was quite strong. He chose to give expression to his genuine concerns and reactions to the society’s problems through a Tamil monthly called ‘Kumurum Nenjam’ run by a Jesuit.

That was just a beginning. Later he joined the AICUF and associated himself with yet another Tamil magazine called ‘Then Mazhai’ to develop his journalistic capabilities. The seeds of his growth and development as a leader began in AICUF. Then he matured to become a University Professor who donned different hats in his life. Today people of different walks of life look up to him as a man of wisdom who would find solutions to their problems. Listening to people who heaped encomiums of praise on his retirement, I was praising God for transforming the simple village boy into a mature leader and an erudite scholar. That was the magic of Jesuit education.

I think of a poor boy who felt shy of acknowledging and introducing his father to his companions in the hostel. He was from a poverty- stricken family. His father, a differently abled person, needed a stick to move around. The student felt humiliated to own him as his father in front of his hostel mates. Later through counseling the student accepted the reality and learnt to give his father due respect and was happy to acknowledge him as his dear father. But he was clever and showed signs of great intellectual capabilities. His professors, who had imbibed the Jesuit value of ‘Cura Personalis’ (caring for the person), helped him blossom into a big achiever. Later he became a professor in a college in Chennai and acquired a doctoral degree in his area of study. He stands as an excellent example what Jesuit education could achieve in an individual in spite of his background.

I know the story of a girl from a minority community, who lived in the outskirts of the city. Her father was a teacher and her mother a homemaker. Mother was a conservative and quite orthodox in her thoughts and actions. She was totally opposed to the idea of her elder daughter going for post-graduate studies in a Jesuit college, whereas her father was all for it. The girl was shy, timid and quiet in nature. She had to struggle painfully to complete her studies.

One day her mother would not let her enter the house and made her wait outside for a few hours for coming a little late from her college. She felt hurt and humiliated, as all their neighbours were watching. But this did not deter her from persevering in her studies. The care she enjoyed from the professors and students gave her the strength to put up with such painful experiences and continue her studies. By the time she completed her studies, she changed into an outgoing, bold and expressive person and today she successfully manages her family life and work in one of the Gulf countries. The magic wand of Jesuit education has worked wonders in her life.

I recall these real life stories with joy and satisfaction as I look back on my life as a Jesuit educator. My involvement with educational apostolate has been for little more than 30 years. I had the singular privilege of working in all the colleges in the MDU province, except Loyola College, Mettala in the erstwhile undivided MDU province. I have worked in different capacities as professor, administrator, counsellor and director of work.

Listening to people who heaped encomiums of praise on his retirement, I was praising God for transforming the simple village boy into a mature leader and an erudite scholar.

I enjoy a tremendous sense of satisfaction and fulfillment to feel I have left a Jesuit stamp in the lives of so many men and women. I thank God for the French Jesuits, who, blessed with an extraordinary vision and foresight, started schools and colleges. They did not stop with primary schools alone. They began colleges of higher learning and established them on firm foundations.

All these educational facilities were a boon to the disadvantaged sections of the society. Doors of higher education were out of bounds for the underprivileged and the people on the fringes of the society. In a caste ridden society it was no easy task for the poor and the marginalized to enter the citadels of higher learning. Jesuits, with indomitable courage and farsightedness, provided opportunities for the children and youth of our highly discriminated society.

I feel proud to consider the tremendous contributions made to the people of God by St. Joseph’s College, Trichy for the last 175 plus years. Palayamkottai has a century old St Xavier’s College, while Chennai has Loyola College, one of the top ranking colleges in the entire country, which is waiting to celebrate its 100 years of service soon. Arul Anandar College, Karumathur stands as a testimony for the Jesuits’ contribution to Rural Development, crossing 50 years of its existence. Our alumni, spread all over the world, are a powerful witness to the quality of education the Jesuits provided and the Ignatian spirit they imbibed.

To anyone who would ask about the particular traits that distinguish Jesuit education, I will list these:

1. Magis: A Latin word for ‘more’ is a watch word of Jesuit education. It drives them to go beyond what is expected. It motivates people to keep aiming higher and higher, to do better and better and never to feel that we have done enough.

2. Cura Personalis: ‘Care for the whole self’ is the meaning of Cura Personalis. It is a call to realize that each person is unique and so demands that the educator gives individual attention to every student, a sincere respect for diversity and an emphasis on holistic care for the mind, body and spirit.   

3. Discernment: Jesuits, who are called to keep discerning God’s will for them, are expected to impart this skill and habit to their collaborators and students, with the expectation that they too would learn to be open to God’s spirit in taking decisions and doing things that lead to greater good. Discenment necessarily involves prayer, reflection, consultation with others.

4. Finding God in all things: Jesuit education involves imagination, emotion and intellect. Seeking God in all things is the core of the Jesuit charism that helps them see God’s presence in all peoples and cultures, in all areas of study and learning and in every human experience.

5. Reflection and analysis: The practice of reflection is a foundational value of Jesuit education. Students are taught to reflect deeply and clearly on all they see and experience. This leads them to see what is good and what is wrong in their society and to challenge the status quo, acknowledge biases and accept responsibility for their actions.

6. Service rooted in justice and love: Jesuit education opens the eyes of the students to social and personal evil and cultivates a critical awareness towards them. It helps them realize that loving God requires reaching out to suffering humans. This value is demonstrated through community service programmes, reaching out to the poor in their neighbourhood or nearby villages. Jesuit institutions provides various opportunities to the students for social involvement and service.

7. Solidarity and kinship: Students develop bonhomie among themselves to work together for greater good. They engage with all people of good will to come up with innovative solutions to the ills and problems of the society.

By the time she completed her studies, she changed into an outgoing, bold and expressive person and today she successfully manages her family life and work in one of the Gulf countries.

Jesuit education inspires students to live meaningful and satisfactory lives of leadership and service to others. There is a very strong urge in them to create a better world. It develops in them the habit of life-long learning. Another salient feature of Jesuit education is paying special attention to values, ethical issues and development of moral character.

I am happy to have encouraged and helped hundreds of my students become critical and analytical individuals who understand the societal problems and try to come up with innovative solutions. I am glad to see that my students are mature enough to embrace interfaith engagement and collaboration. It is a unique satisfaction to see that Jesuit education has fostered individuals who love God, their country and the suffering humanity.

Jesu Michael Das, SJ, who has been in the field of higher education for more than 30 years, is now the Coordinator of Mentor Care at Arul Anandar College, Karumathur, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. He can be contacted at