- Rethink. Adopt a non-secularizing understanding of Catholic collegiate education: “truth” includes the truth of the Gospel as much as it includes any “scientific” truth. This perspective essentially changes our vision from “being like all the others” to being distinctively ourselves, with our own grounding, tradition, voice, character, structures, canons, mission, etc., overlapping with other similar enterprises but not being reduced to their horizons. With a clear sense of our special identity we can more effectively build a purposeful apostolically-tuned educational work that will be able to attract and inform others who have a similar call.
- Retrieve and revise. Get the pedagogical act together. Decide the content, style, method, structuring we should most want to be offering in our collegiate programs. Use the first collegiate years (i.e., the high school years) especially for (1) a solid grounding in Letters (grammar, reading, writing, public speaking, foreign languages, history, literature, art, culture), adding some introduction to essential mathematics and science; and (2) a good knowledge of the contents of the Catholic catechism. For the later collegiate years (i.e., the first two years of college), make a deeper understanding of the Gospel and Scripture the cornerstone. Survey philosophy, theology, mathematics, the sciences, and contemporary issues in the later classes (leaving philosophy and theology to be more deeply engaged in the equivalent of the last two years of college if programming allows). The Society will maintain for its own formational purposes separate philosophy and theology programs.
- Reconfigure Jesuit academic presence and operations in the schools by founding two-year Jesuit juniorate colleges (with the Society’s own deans, norms, personnel, hiring and promotion requirements, curricular control) offering Bachelors of Letters degrees. These juniorate colleges could be attached to high schools; they could be free-standing and perhaps allied with existing universities; or they could be separate colleges within those universities. They would be where Jesuit scholastics go after vows, to acquire what they should learn (content, style, techniques) for their future ministries (most immediately their upcoming regency years).
- Renegotiate (at our present university / college level) the separate incorporation understandings of how the Jesuit mission should work on the campus. Redefine the scope of Jesuit activity / responsibility in relation to all concerns bearing on the core identity of the institution (hiring, programming, etc.), and in relation to Jesuit academic anchoring (e.g., guarantees of support, funding, physical installation of juniorate colleges). This new way of proceeding supplants the present “light seasoning approach” (sprinkling Jesuits hither and yon). The Jesuit enterprise should have its own integrity, focus, physical location, scope of authority. In this arrangement, Jesuits cannot be effectively “vetoed out of existence” or marginalized by departmental preferences and secular academic standards. There will thus be a particular, secure place for Jesuits to be, a particular mission for them to work on together. Such an arrangement does not entirely preclude traditional academic paths for Jesuits.
- Retrain. Prepare administrators and teachers to manage our collegiate programs. Reshape Jesuit academic formation, re-instituting a juniorate period for all scholastics and restructuring philosophy and theology. This is easily said, but it is the critically important part of the effort. Everything is spoiled if the right faculty are not in place, doing the right things well with the right oversight and appropriate procedures for self-correction.
- Reproportion and refocus. Promote collegiate teaching over graduate teaching, while allowing the standard professional academic path for a few. This emphasis puts more of us where the pressing need is and prevents us from getting tied to professional models that are not appreciative of or interested in our apostolic intentions. Trim away some other apostolic investments to refocus province resources in these directions.
- Refound. Establish and give full support (time, money, resources) to competent standing committees—planning, executive, and oversight—perhaps all as one integrated “board of Jesuit education.”
- Respond expeditiously and perseveringly to the challenge before us. Undertake this entire effort in a focused, non-temporizing way to start the changes very soon, yet with the necessary deliberation and prior study. Though a beginning must be made now, the program has to evolve intelligently and prudently. It will require attention and tweaking for some decades, even generations. We need time to notice, admit, and learn from mistakes.
- React to student interest. Establish associates programs in the juniorate colleges for those interested in joining or working with the Society. While students must never be pressured in any way to join the Society, there should be a plan for those who show interest.
- Reject and re-anchor. Avoid any misleading or mistaken directions (documents, experiments, understandings) that may have been promoted in recent years. Aim for a solid anchoring in the Institute of the Society.
Why take up such a program? Because (1) our times are suffering seriously from bad education, formational misdirection, rising barbarism, manipulative politicized activism, polarization, partisan blindness, and other things leading to greater distraction, social dysfunction, confusion, alienation, poverty, violence, and injustice; and the Society of Jesus has a long tradition of delivering a faith-reason-and-culture-based education that should be able to help address and reverse precisely these serious problems at a radical level; (2) such a project coheres with our Institute from its earliest inception and we cannot really be who we are unless we attend to it; (3) a thorough updating is long overdue after at least half a century of drift, experimentation, and accommodation; (4) the Church and our supporting benefactors have been expecting this kind of contribution from the Society; popes have even directly requested our commitment to this work; (5) since the separate incorporation agreements seem to presume continuing Jesuit leadership and significant involvement, to be true to the spirit of those agreements we must do all we can do to provide that leadership as well as we can and rightfully should; (6) making the Gospel well known to the next generation is one of the most promising ways to fulfill the demands of justice and of our vocation, and the formative educational years are the most opportune time on which to focus this effort (see GC 34, d. 4, “Our Mission and Culture”).
There is yet another motivation: (7) the Society’s survival may well require it. Secularization and anti-religious sentiment have led to drift and diminishment; our own union of minds and hearts is challenged; numbers are falling. And now many people are being radically confused by the progressive “wokesters” who would claim that our whole tradition is at core a misdirection if not an outright evil (patriarchal, racist, etc.). We need to work against and decry openly such heresies and frauds, not collude with them. To overcome the dominant trends, we need to be a united apostolic entity that affirms its own Institute and that sharply captures the imagination and admiration of others with our notable contributions. By discovering how to address society’s critical spiritual, intellectual, and cultural needs in an effective way, we may achieve just the right formula for our apostolic action. Adapting well what we have been called to do, did so well for centuries, and were actually founded to do (“the progress of souls in Christian life and learning”) could be what keeps us viable and vital. The effort is worth our very best, not just for the sake of the Institute but for the good of souls and for the greater glory of God.