- Fr. Felix Raj, SJ
On the dust jacket of his book, The Jesuits, Malachi
Martin wrote: "..... In that world where faith and power clash,
the Society of Jesus has been the most fabled and fabulous, the
most admired and reviled, in the practice of both. From its
first beginnings during a revolutionary time almost exactly like
our own, and down the four and a half centuries of the Society's
existence, Jesuits have been both a puzzle and a model for the
rest of the world. Friends and enemies, Catholics and
non-Catholics, have all tried to unravel "the power and the
secret" of these religiously trained and devoted men who stand
as giants in every secular pursuit of mankind as well. In
science and art, writing and exploration and teaching - and not
least in world politics - Jesuits always aimed to be the best.
And they were. They had a part to play in every major political
alliance in Europe and America, in Asia and Africa. They became
shapers not only of religious history, but of world history.
Even Nazi generals dreamed of such a cadre of men; and even
Lenin envied them."
||1540 - Society of Jesus is formally
approved by Pope Paul III.
Nowhere in the SJ Order’s Constitution is it stated that
education is to be given special importance. The original
purpose did not include educational institutions.
Still the Jesuits have come to be known in the public mind
for their educational work and have acquired the reputation
of being among the world’s best educators and educationists.
The number of Jesuit colleges and universities in the world
has now reached 114. 28 Universities in the United States.
Many of these universities have traditions dating back many
years. In Europe, the Gregorian University (Rome, Italy;
founded 1551) is the most famous Jesuit university.
Perhaps Jesuits impart the best-known education in India.
They conduct not less than 31 university colleges, 5
Institutes of Business Administration and 155 high schools
spread throughout the country, almost all of them among its
most reputed. In them, more than 300,000 students belonging
to every religious, linguistic and socio-economic group,
receive their education.
The situation is the same wherever the Society of Jesus has
||How did this happen?
The Portuguese established their capital in Goa in 1510.
1542 - Francis Xavier landed in Goa in 1542. He was
offered the St. Paul’s College. India became the
birthplace for worldwide Jesuit educational work.
Xavier wrote to Ignatius about the success of St. Paul’s and
how it had become an effective medium of spreading the
Gospel. Ignatius was pleased and encouraged the work.
1546 - A school in Spain was started- first for
Jesuit entrants, later for others.
1548 - Another school in Sicily was begun.
1556 - Ignatius died. Before his death, he approved
the foundation of 40 schools.
Popes, bishops, and laymen alike told Ignatius that schools
were needed, and Ignatius accepted the argument. By 1556
three fourths of Jesuits not in training were engaged in
running schools. Some were schools for the Jesuits
themselves, and many of their other pupils were children of
the poor or the middle class. (Tuition was free.) However,
they made a special effort to enroll the children of kings,
nobles, and others in power, those who would set the
policies and the tone of the society.
1586 - A document called Ratio Studiorum
(Guide to or plan of education), was produced by the
Jesuits. It remains a classic till date.
1773 – When the SJ was suppressed, Catherine the
Great, the powerful and self-willed queen of Russia who had
great esteem for Jesuit teaching methods refused to
promulgate the Pope’s order.
1986 - A document called “Characteristics of Jesuit
Education” was released. 400 years after Ratio Studiorum.
||World View of Ignatius: The foundation
for everything that happened and happens. It is found in the
Spiritual Exercises and the Constitutions.
- God is creator, the Supreme Goodness – Absolute
reality. All other realities flow from God. He is present
and labours in all things. He can be discovered in all
events and history.
- Every human person is loved by God. This calls for a
response in freedom.
- Sin is a reality and it blocks our freedom to respond
spontaneously. We are strengthened by the redeeming love
of God to engage in an ongoing struggle against sin.
- Jesus is the model for human life. He is alive and
active. He invites all human persons.
- Response is an active commitment to Christ and to his
- This response is in and through the Church.
- In the spirit of Magis.
- Not only as individuals but as community of persons
working in service – friends in the Lord.
- Decisions based on a spiritual praxis – an ongoing
personal and communitarian discernment process.
||Jesuit Characteristics: What keeps the
Jesuits united and going?
||Undertaking any form of work.
||In any part of the world.
||For the Greater Glory of God.
||Jesuit humanism (there is no
condemnation of anything human). Willingness to use
any branch of knowledge; nothing is taboo for a
||Obedience, certain flexibility to
||Pioneering attitude and tradition
||Team spirit – men on a mission – union
of hearts and minds.
||Transparency/ apostolic availability.
||Simplicity/ No bureaucracy//No
advertisement/ No commercialization/ Certain
uniqueness which makes them different from others –
the name (SJ & Jesuita), its objectives, way of life,
administration, prayer life, formation etc.
||Stern discipline with freedom in life
completeness/finish in all they do.
||Magis – greater good to greater number
of people (age-old maxim).
||Characteristics of Jesuit Education
- World-affirming – goodness, wonder and mystery of the
- Total/integral formation of each one in the context of
the community – intellectual, moral, physical, leadership
qualities, team work, creativity, communication, human
relationships, values etc. Promotes academic quality and
“House System” – a Jesuit innovation. Youth Movements,
IMCS, AICUF, LTS, CLC etc.
Success in this field encouraged the Order to go in for more
educational Institutions. That is why the Jesuit dictum –
“Give us a boy, and we shall return you a man, a citizen of
his country and a child of God”.
- Religious / spiritual formation – Worship of God and
reverence for creation.
- Jesuit education as an instrument for life. Character
formation, discipline with freedom.
- Promotes dialogue between faiths, cultures and
- Personal care and concern – person centered curriculum
- Participation of student – opportunity for personal
- Encourages life-long openness to growth.
- Value-based and value-oriented.
- Promotes realistic knowledge of self, the other and
the world – awareness of social realities.
- Christ as Model.
- Promotes justice and serves faith that promotes
- Forms men and women for others (Arruppe).
- Manifests an option for the poor.
- Stresses lay-Jesuit collaboration.
- A Praxis – On-going evaluation – Examination of work
and its fruits.
In 1993, 7 years after the Characteristics document
was released, Fr. General raised the issue: this document is
the statement of our inspiration in education. How can we
insert the spirituality of the document into our lives and
incorporate it into our classrooms?
The outcome was Ignatian Pedagogy – A practical Approach.
IPP – Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm - Context,
Experience, Re¬flec¬tion, Action, and Evaluation.
To quote from Paul Johnson's History of Christianity,
What in fact they did was to provide an educational service
on Demand. If a Catholic prince or prince-bishop wanted an
orthodox school, college or university established and
conducted efficiently, he applied to the Jesuits; he
supplied the funds and buildings, they trained personnel and
techniques. They were, in effect, rather like a modern
multi-national company selling expert services. And they
brought to the business of international schooling
uniformity, discipline, and organization that was quite new.
Jesuit educational methods have been criticized by some as
- Too rigid, too stereotyped, and geared chiefly to the
elite, intelligent and the determined, owing to the
excessive stimulation of ambition.
Jesuits today are probably more aware of their educational
approaches in the context of the national and local
socio-economic realities. As a result there is a very
different atmosphere prevailing in today’s Jesuit
institutions, an atmosphere at once more relaxed, less
formal, more pluralistic and more tolerant of individual
- Also, some observe that they have become worldly
today. For the greater glory of God is replaced by for the
greater glory of man/world/Jesuits themselves.
"Though few in number, the basic principles that Loyola
had set forth for his Company were powerful catalysts.
Once his men harnessed their energies within his
organization to the worldwide work, they produced a unique
phenomenon of human history. That is why the
eighteenth-century German theorist, Novalis wrote:
"Never,", "never before in the course of the world's
history had such a Society appeared. The old Roman Senate
itself did not lay schemes for world domination with
greater certainty of success. Never had the carrying out
of a greater idea been considered with greater
understanding. For all time, this Society will be an
example to every society which feels an organic longing
for infinite extension and eternal duration..." (Malachi
Martin, The Jesuits p. 27).
Jesuit contribution to Bengal
Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.
Jesuits at the the Mughal Court
Jalaluddin Muhammed Akbar, the great Mughal ruler was a
religious man, who in the words of his son “never for a
moment forgot God”. Akbar got his first insight into the
Christian character and religion from the actions of two
Jesuits – Frs. Antony Vaz and Peter Dias, who had reached
Bengal in 1576 at the request of the Bishop of Cochin. These
Jesuits had severely rebuked some Portuguese merchants who
had defrauded the Mughal treasury by not paying taxes. They
had asked them to restitute, otherwise there would be no
forgiveness for them. Akbar was greatly impressed by this
news and curious about the religion, which insisted so much
on honest dealings. Soon he sent for Fr. Gil Eanes Pereira,
Vicar-General of Bengal, who in turn suggested that he
should invite the Jesuits to his court. In September 1579,
Akbar’s ambassador arrived at Goa, asking for two learned
priests to be sent to Akbar’s court.
The three Jesuits chosen for the project were Fr. Rudolf
Acquaviva who led the mission, Fr. Antony Monserrate and Br.
Francis Henriques as his companions. They reached Fatehpur
Sikri via Surat and Gwalior on February 28, 1580 and were
received with extraordinary warmth and affection by the
emperor, whose attachment continued throughout the three
years of the duration of the mission. Since Akbar did not
become a Christian and appeared to be doubtful as to all
forms of faith, unwilling to commit himself, the Jesuits
thought they might as well spend their time elsewhere. In
1582, Francis Henriques and Monserrate returned back leaving
behind Rudolf who wanted to pursue the efforts for some more
time. But in 1583, Rudolf too returned to Goa as nothing
positive happened, thus ending the first Jesuit Mission to
the great Mughal Empire.
The first Jesuit Mission cannot be considered as a total
failure. Their presence did help to bring about a better
understanding between Islam and Christianity. In 1591, a
second mission consisting of Fr. Edward Leitao, Fr.
Christopher de Vega and Bro. Stephen Riberio arrived at
Lahore on Akbar’s invitation. But it lasted less than a
year. The Jesuits soon felt that they were engaged in a
futile task and feared that Akbar was manipulating them for
his own ends.
Once again after a gap of 13 years, Akbar’s earnest efforts
to obtain a replacement were rewarded. In May 1595, Fr.
Jerome Xavier (grand nephew of Francis Xavier) accompanied
by Fr. Manuel Pinheiro and Bro. Bento de Goes arrived in
Lahore on a third mission. This time Akbar gave them
permission to open a school. However, the king avoided the
subject of religion with the Fathers on the pretext that the
Jesuits needed to learn Persian before embarking on
Jesuit Contributions to Bengal
It is said that Akbar brought the Jesuits to Northern India.
As mentioned earlier, it was the conduct of the first two
Jesuits in Bengal in 1576 that drew the attention of emperor
Akbar to the Christian Faith. When the two left, Fr. Gil
Eanes Pereira of the Diocese of Cochin followed their
mission in Bengal. Jesuit priests returned to Bengal in
1598-1599, with the intention of working there on a more
permanent basis. They started a school and a hospital at
Hooghly for some months. From Hooghly they went to Chandecan,
the capital of Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore, where they were
received most cordially by that Prince and the Portuguese as
well. The Raja granted them full permission to preach to his
subjects and to baptize all those who wished to become
Christians. It was at Chandecan (Jessore) that the first
Jesuit church in Bengal was opened in January 1600. From
Chandecan they proceeded to Sripur where Raja Kedar Rai was
friendly. They also went to the great port of Chittagong and
From 1602 to 1615 the relations between the Portuguese and
the king of Arakan (in whose territory these two places
belonged) were generally hostile. The Jesuit Fathers were
therefore imprisoned and the Christians were ill-treated.
Kedar Rai of Sripur and the Raja of Chandecan also did the
same. Under these circumstances the surviving Jesuits left
Bengal, some going to Pegu (Burma) and the others returning
After a short interval, by 1616, there were once again six
Jesuits in various parts of Bengal. One was stationed at
Sripur, where nearly a thousand Christian refugees from
Sandwip had settled down after the expulsion of Fr.
Sebastian Gonzales from Dakha. Another Jesuit was in Dhaka.
The other four were stationed at Hooghly and Pipli. In
several of these places the Jesuits erected churches of
their own. But when they tried to expand their activities in
Hooghly, the Augustinians resisted them and imposed certain
restrictions on their work. It was at about this time that
the Jesuit residence of Hooghly became a modest “College”
where children were taught to read and write, and speak
In 1625 there was a terrible famine followed by pestilence.
Four of the Jesuits belonging to Hooghly College and two
Augustinian fathers died in the service of the
plague-stricken. As the century advanced the Jesuits were
often not able to replace their losses, while the
Augustinians generally maintained a sufficient number of
priests in Bengal. Jesuit work suffered a serious setback
with the seizure of the Portuguese settlement by the Mughals
in 1632, but they continued in Bengal, which was an
Augustinian mission field since 1599.
Under the patronage of the Portuguese Padroado, the
Augustinians, the Jesuits and the Dominicans had been
catering to the spiritual needs of the Portuguese and in the
process had also baptized hundreds of natives, including the
vast numbers of prisoners and slaves captured by them in the
course of frequent wars with the local chieftains. Some of
the missionaries, through their spirit of service during the
frequent outbreak of plagues, attracted a number of people
to the Christian fold.
In 1691, a small group of French Jesuits had come to
Chandernagore from Pondicherry. In 1694, two more French
Jesuits, Father Duchatz and Debeszes had come to
Chandernagore after the failure of a scientific expedition
to Siam, now Thailand. They began ministering to the
Catholics of the town. By the beginning of the 18th century,
the Catholics of Chandernagore were served by the Jesuits
working in two churches and a school. Fr. Charles de la
Breuille seems to have been the first parish priest
(1693-1698) of the church of St. Louis. We hear little about
the life and work of the early Chandernagar Jesuits.
Jesuit Bishop Francis Laynes of Mylapore, which he ruled
from 1710, visited Balasore in June 1712 and was well
received by the English Governor. He then paid a brief visit
to Calcutta and moved on to Bandel, the Christian centre
(close to Chandernagar) where there were Europeans,
Eurasians, and Indian converts, mostly from the lowest
castes. The Bishop began thereafter the formal visitation of
the territory which is today Bangladesh, spending no less
than nine months at Chittagong, before proceeding to Dhaka.
Everywhere there were baptisms, confirmations, marriages,
and other church ceremonies, which had not been seen in
Bengal for long. Apart from a considerable number of
‘public’ or open Christians, there were in this region also
many hidden or secret Christians – hidden because of the
Mughal ban on conversions – who also came to the sacraments
After his exhausting travels, Bishop Francis Laynes retired
quietly to the Jesuit house at Hooghly, doing what work he
could, and trying to recoup – but he was in poor health, as
the long years of missionary life had taken their toil.
Shortly after Easter 1715, he was seized by a fever and the
zealous sannyasi-Bishop died in June when not yet sixty. His
visitation and presence seemed to have given new life to the
Bengal mission, but with his death things again came to a
standstill. The Jesuits had a house, a school and a Church
at Bandel. In 1706, there were only two Jesuits left,
Francis Ozech, the Rector and another priest. The station
ceased functioning in 1740, with the death of the last
priest, Fr. Deistermann. When Fr. Tieffenthaler visited
Bandel in 1765, the house and the school were but relics of
the past and the Church was in a dilapidated condition.
The nineteenth century was a period of growth for the
Society of Jesus under the able leadership of Fr. Roothan,
the Jesuit General who collaborated on a world level with
Gregory XVI and the ‘Congregation for the Propagation of
Faith, for the restoration of the missions. As the plea from
Calcutta had been for English speaking born priests, the new
Vicariate of Bengal was entrusted to the Jesuit province of
England, with Fr. Robert Saint Leger from Ireland as the
leader of the new mission. The Jesuit General wanted to make
of Calcutta for British India what Goa had been for
Portuguese India. The immediate scope of the SCPF in sending
the Jesuit Missionary expedition under Fr. Leger to the
newly established Vicariate of Calcutta was to put an end to
the existing scandalous factions and to serve more
adequately the numerous Catholics who appealed to the SCPF.
The English Jesuits came to Bengal in 1834. A group of eight
with one diocesan priest landed at Babughat in October 1834.
In July 1835 they started St. Francis Xavier’s College at
Moorghyhatta, Calcutta, the first Jesuit College in the East
after the restoration of the Jesuit Order in 1814. In 1841
they shifted the college to 22 Chowringhee, the present site
of the Indian Museum. In October 1846, the Jesuits handed
over the college to the local Bishop Most Rev. Dr. Carew and
left Calcutta. The college was subsequently closed.
In the beginning of the second half of 19th century, the
Bengal Mission had been entrusted to the Belgian Province of
the Society of Jesus. Since the people of Calcutta had
insisted on having priests well versed in English, the final
expedition was composed of four Belgian Jesuits with Fr.
Depelchin as the Superior and three English Jesuits. The
Missionaries reached Calcutta on Monday 18 November 1859.
When the Jesuits were entrusted by Propaganda with the
missions of Bengal, they were made responsible for the
existing Calcutta parishes. Four of them had a history
behind them: The Cathedral Church of Our Lady of the Holy
Rosary built in 1799. The Sacred Heart Church Dharamtala and
Our Lady of Happy Voyage at Howrah in 1834 and St. Thomas’
Middleton Row in 1842. The Jesuits in the course of time
added four new parishes: St. Francis Xavier, Bowbazar
(1897), St. Teresa’s, Taltola (1898), St. John’s, Sealdah
(1907) and St. Ignatius’ Kidderpore (1911).
Jesuits are known as pioneers. Their pastoral care and
concern of the faithful and pioneering works in various
fields in 24 Parganas are highly appreciated. The Sacred
Heart Church, Dharamtala was transferred from the Portuguese
Padroado to Mgr. Carew in August 1841. Fr. Goiran who came
to Calcutta with the first English Jesuits in 1834 became
the first Parish priest and continued till Fr. Verali
succeeded him in 1844.
Some protestant Christians from 24 Parganas came to the
Sacred Heart Church, the then centre of the Bengali
Christian community, expressing their desire to become
catholics. With the encouragement of Mgr Carew and the help
of Mr. Maikel Crow, the then District Collector of 24
Parganas, Fr. Verali visited Kaikhali several times. A small
chapel was built in 1845 and Fr. Zubiburu, a Carmelite, went
to reside there. Besides Kaikhali, Fr. Zubiburu founded a
small community at Krishnagar in 1845 and another at
Midnapore in 1846.
In 1865 Jesuit Fr. Goffinet settled at Kaikhali. He often
visited the small Christian community of Debipur and opened
a school in August 1869. In 1870 the school had 144 pupils.
Fr. Delplace is acclaimed the “founder of the 24 parganas
Mission”. He started Basanti mission in October 1873, Khari
in 1874, Baidyapur in 1875, Raghapur in 1876 and Morapai in
1877. “He would stay in one village for two or three months,
instructing the people, then moving on to the next village
that invited him”.
The school of St. Xavier’s, Calcutta was reopened on 16th
January 1860 at 10 Park Street with 75 students on the roll.
The school building was originally a public theatre called
the Sans-Souci Theatre. The company that started it having
failed, His Grace Dr. Carew had bought it. By 30th January,
there were 86 pupils. The college annual functions were
honoured by the presence of the successive Lt. Governors of
Bengal and three times with that of Viceroys: Sir John
Laurence in 1868; Lord Mayo in 1870 and Lord Lytton in 1877.
The College was affiliated to the Calcutta University in
1862. Besides the school, the Jesuits were entrusted with
the Parish of St. Thomas as well as the Fort William chapel
of the military. Today, in 2011, the School department has
around 2,300 and the College 6,500 students on their rolls
In Bengal there are two Jesuit provinces: Kolkata and
Darjeeling with 350 Jesuits spread all over the State. Dumka–Raiganj
province partially extends into Raiganj area of Bengal.
Jesuits are involved in educational work, pastoral ministry,
tribal and dalit welfare programmes, social research and
action, social communication and medical and health care.
They are chiefly known for their educational institutions,
big or small. They are responsible, to a great extent, for
the educational and socio-economic advancement of tribals in
the Chottanagpur and Santal Pargana areas.
In the educational field, there are two Jesuit University
Colleges, namely St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata and St.
Joseph’s College, Darjeeling; ten High Schools (St.
Xavier’s, Kolkata, Durgapur, Burdwan, Haldia, Raiganj; St.
Lawrence School, Kolkata, St. Paul’s School, Raghapur, St.
Joseph’s, Darjeeling, etc); one media research centre
affiliated to UGC (EMRC), one communication centre (Chitrabani)
and numerous primary schools and hostels in villages. There
are around 25,000 students studying in Jesuit educational
institutions in Bengal.
Fr. Lafont, professor of Physics at St. Xavier’s College,
played a leading role in popularising science. Sir J. C.
Bose and Dr. C. V. Raman found encouragement for their
introduction to science in the person of Fr. Lafont. He was
called the “Father of Science in India.” Modern Indology
owes much to the Belgian Jesuits like Johanns, Dandoy,
Bayart, Antoine, De Smet and Fallon of St. Xavier’s College,
Calcutta. They had become enamoured of the rich religious
and cultural heritage of India and Bengal.
They contributed a lot to the development of Bengali culture
and enriched the Bengali and Sanskrit languages. They made
profound contributions to the dialogue between Hinduism and
Christianity and added a whole new dimension to apostolic
work. “ Light of the East” series, published by Fr. Dandoy
from 1922 to 1946 to encourage inter-religious and
inter-cultural dialogue is worth mentioning here. Their only
ambition was to serve to the best of their abilities the two
causes that they cherished most in their hearts: the cause
of Christ and the cause of India. Fr. Fallon was called the
“apostle of inter-religious dialogue” in Calcutta.
Jesuits in North East India
Jesuit Archbishop Meuleman, SJ of Calcutta sent his own
secretary, Fr. Lefebvre in June 1915 to take charge of the
Assam Mission from the Salvatorians who were interned in
concentration camps. Within a short time four other veteran
Jesuits, Frs. Boone, Vial, Kkrier & Grignard joined him. The
five Jesuits occupied only the four resident centers of
Shillong, Raliang, Gawhati & Bondashil.
Although the Jesuits were experienced missionaries and their
superior, Lefebvere, a virtuous & zealous pastor, they were
too few to look after all the mission centers. Everywhere
people wanted schools. When the Catholic schools were either
abandoned & new ones not opened, the Protestants were
approached by a small number of Catholics and subsequently
they became Protestants.
The Jesuits worked in the Assam Mission with great zeal and
dedication despite the paucity of personnel and the
limitations imposed by the war and post-war years. They were
convinced that they would be in the Assam Mission
permanently. However, their Superior General insisted with
the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith in Rome, to
relieve his confreres from the Assam Mission.
In 1967 Fr. Verstraeten, a noted educationist of St.
Xavier's College, Kolkata was deputed on a one-man
commission to explore the possibilities of a Jesuit mission
in Nagaland. His report said: prospects: glorious; peoples'
needs: extreme; educational standards: low; cooperation:
promised; likely response: overwhelming. The only major
hurdle was: Nagaland is a "sensitive", hence restricted area
for foreigners since the Chinese invasion in 1962.
Archbishop Hubert Rosario, SDB of Dibrugarh had earlier
appealed to the Jesuit General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe to send
Jesuits to the North East. Now Calcutta Province, though the
closest geographically, could not spare any Indian Jesuit.
Karnataka Province accepted the challenge and sent a batch
of three Jesuits to Nagaland in 1970. They opened the Loyola
School in Jakhama village in 1971. Gradually number of
mission stations and educational institutions were started.
St. Joseph's College, Jakhama was opened in 1985. Today
there are around 70 Jesuits working in the NE and their work
- Calcutta – SJ Survey, St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta –
- Felix Raj, S.J.: 1. Wise men from the West, Telegraph
Magazine, July 27, 1986; 2. Jesuit Education, The
Statesman, July 31, 2001.
- H. Josson, ‘La Mission du Bengale Occidental on
Archdiocese de Calcutta – 1921.
- Hambye, E. R., History of Christianity in India, Vol-III.
- J. Tieffenthaler, Geography de ‘L Hindustan.
- Kottuppallil George, SDB, History of the Catholic
Missions in Central Bengal, p 19.
- Steenhault, sj Yves de, History of Jesuits in West
Bengal (1921-1985), Catholic Press, Ranchi.