Monday, August 24, 2015

Free education by the jesuits.

concept of gratuity a hard and tortuous journey from the time of Ignatius until the present.Jesuit schools became more of a privilege limited to the middle and upper classes.

Wanting to open a New English Medium School Read this reflection
Gratuity in Ignatian Education:
Then and Now
This article is taken from Jesuits 2006 John P. Foley S.J

Ignatius was absolutely convinced of God’s Providence with regard to the Society of Jesus. He referred to the special Providence by which God would take care of everything. He assured us that the more we trusted divine Providence, the more abundant blessing it would pour upon us. Ignatius wanted us to rejoice in our limitations. He taught that our fragility is the means for Providence to become present.

From the very beginning, it was one of the characteristics of how he and the Society operated. For him it was a test of our apostolic integrity; people will listen to us only when we can show them that we have nothing to gain from what we are calling them to.

When the first Jesuit school was founded in the city of Messina in 1547, gratuity was the solution for the Jesuits to remain faithful to their resolve not to charge for ministries provided. Ignatius commissioned his secretary, Fr. Polanco, to provide examples of how the schools might be funded: by the city as happened in Messina and Palermo; by some prince, as in Ferrara and Florence by their respective dukes, or as in Vienna by King Ferdinand; by some private individual, as in Venice and Padua by the prior of the Trinity; by a group of individuals, as in Naples Bologna and elsewhere.

Thus not to charge for education was a corollary to one of the most fundamental graces Ignatius received; to give freely what one has freely received, to minister without worrying about benefit and without support of gold or silver, concepts almost totally foreign to the ways  we are taught to see things in today’s world.

When Polanco wrote the program: “First of all, we accept for classes and literary studies everybody, poor and rich free of charge and for charity’s sake, without accepting any remuneration.”
When the Collegio Romano opened in the Eternal City in 1551, the sign over the door read, “School of Grammar, Humanities and Christian Doctrine, Free.” This concept of gratuity was revolutionary at the time. It is one more way in which from the very earliest days the Jesuits were true innovators. They refused to charge tuition for the same religious motives that from the beginning led them to refuse payment for any of their ministries. This fact made Jesuit schools financially attractive to parents and local governments and was a powerful factor contributing to their initial success.

For the first 150 years the schools were supported by begging, an activity Ignatius exercised constantly and in many different ways from the time of his conversion until the end of his life.
But times change and new circumstances demand adaptations. However, as the number of schools increased (by the end of the sixteenth century the Jesuits were founding six new schools a year), the possibility of staffing with Jesuit teachers became more and more difficult, slowly but surely lay people began to take their places. Lay people with familial obligations need a fixed income to sustain themselves and their dependents.

The school became tuition driven: the greater cost to educate, the more the school had to charge. And so it was the world over until in many cases accessibility to our Jesuit schools became more and more of a privilege limited to the middle and upper classes.

Fast forward now to 1955 and the country of Venezuela, Spanish Jesuit Fr. Jose Maria Velaz sought a solution to the fact that so many people in that country and so many others were excluded from private Catholic education because of its having become so expensive. Refusing to buckle before this cruel reality, he searched for a way to serve those being left behind in Venezuela. He was convinced that there must be another way to resolve the problem.

In response he founded the first Fe y Alegria schools which to this day are meant to be a religious alternative to the public system. He confronted the same problem that Ignatius and the first Jesuits did when they ventured into the educational field. His solution was also original and creative: let the State continue to pay the salaries for the teachers; the central office of Fe y Alegria would beg for the means to buy the construction materials to build the different schools; the parents and students would commit to working on weekends to build the new structures for their sons and daughters.
In fifty years now, Fe y Alegria has expanded to 13 countries in Latin America and educates over half a million students yearly who otherwise would be excluded because of the restraints of tuitions.

Forty years later, the US Jesuits confronted the same difficulty where they wanted to open a school in the most populated area of Chicago. When the Provincial told us who were organizing the new venture to “go out and see how you’re going to fund the school,” the three of us looked at each other and decided we needed some radical new innovative idea. So we hired a consultant and asked him for some solutions on “how to fund a school in the inner-city” What was our amazement when that same consultant returned about two weeks later and simply asked, “What if everyone had a job?” We decided to test the idea. We went to the Jesuit alumni who were active in the Chicago business community and knocked on the doors. We told them our story: the Jesuits wanted to open a school in the inner city and they wanted to fund the school by having the students work on a rotating basis one day a week. We were overwhelmed with the response from our alumni. 

Frankly it seemed that people were so desperate for new idea in the educational field that it was enough that the Jesuits were going to try something different for them to get behind it. It was almost too much to hope for. Until the students went out to work that first day. We were not at all sure it was going to be effective.

Some of the companies did in fact call us that first day, but it was to thank us for sending the students. It became an opportunity for the company to get involved and respond to the needs of the inner city; the employees were proud to work for a company that became part of such a program; it generally lifted morale in the business places and made employees feel that they really were contributing in a concrete way to make the world better.

The idea that student have a job was the seed that made it possible in 1966 to return to the original gratuitous vision of Ignatian education, as it was practiced both at Messina and at the Collegio Romano. With that suggestion we were able to restore the notion of gratuity and incorporate it into the fundamental structure of Cristo Rey Jesuit High school.

Without knowing it, Cristo Rey was applying what Ignatius mandated over four centuries ago. Basically, the Cristo Rey formula is the integration of two seemingly distinct institutions: a school and a temporary employment agency. To be a student at Cristo Rey a young person must be able to hold a job. By going to their assignments at different contracted places of employment in the city five days a month, each student earns over seventy per cent of the cost of his / her education, thus permitting the school to charge a relatively modest amount, the remaining third of the cost, to each student.

We have discovered that it does infinitely more. In a word the self-esteem of the student goes sky-high. This student never even thought it within the realm of possibility that there would be a place for him there. All of a sudden, this student and his peers see that they are welcome there and can function effectively.  These fifteen year olds begin to realize that that world of business is accessible to them, that there are options for the future. Now it makes sense to go to school and to finish. There really is a worthwhile goal to pursue and it really is possible to attain it. The Cristo Rey model has given birth to a network of eleven schools in the country.

Foundations have their eye on us. They like what they see and they want us to succeed. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has given us the biggest grant they have ever assigned to a faith-based institution. The Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation has also invested heavily in our future. These and other financial backers are our modern day equivalent of the princes and dukes of Ferrara and Florence.

For those of us who are involved in it, besides the excitement we often feel the need to kneel before what is happening. There is something sacred about this whole thing. The total is very definitely more than the sum of the parts. The Spirit is unmistakably present.

Just like any successful economic model, it has to be continually revised and probably re-created. As the needs and circumstances change, so do the solutions we try to provide. Our forefathers in Jesuit education tried to provide different answers at different times, according to the situation. We always have to be innovative and create new answers. The challenge is to preserve that spirit of dynamic creativity.

Four and a half centuries ago, Ignatius tried to be faithful to the grace he received to maintain our ministries free of charge. Each generation of Jesuit ministries, including education, must discover its own solution and create its own way of being faithful t our founder’s desire. How are we faithful to gratuity today?

There are no pat answers, no one-size-fits-all. Each generation has the obligation to produce their own solution because that’s the only way to remain vital. Is it easy? Is there an easy answer?  Not at all but it wasn’t easy Ignatius either begging on the steps of the church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona. Our fragility is the means for Providence to become active.

The concept of gratuity has made a hard and tortuous journey from the time of Ignatius until the present. Happily it is making a new appearance to that basic commitment of Ignatian abandonment to what the Lord provides. May we have the courage to embrace it?

John P. Foley S.J taken from the Jesuit Year Book

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