Tom Healey '77
Lesson from Loyola Hall
I first came across the Ignatian tetragrammaton when I began my freshman year at Saint Ignatius, and was instructed on the proper form to be used when heading a homework assignment: A.M.D.G., name, date, period, and assignment title.
We were told by the venerable Mr. William Murphy, longtime speech teacher and Harlequin moderator, that we attended a Jesuit school, and these four letters represented the motto of the Jesuits. Later in the day, Fr. Arthur Walters, S.J., our Latin teacher, explained that A.M.D.G. stood for Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam or “For the Greater Glory of God.”
Fast forward to the early 1990s, and I am teaching freshmen about the life of St. Ignatius and the formation and history of the Society of Jesus. In my quest to offer them something other than my voice, I come across a film, The Company: Inigo and His Jesuits. Narrated by the noted actor Cyril Cusack, this film was made in England (of all places), and tells its story while on location in Lancashire at Stonyhurst College, the oldest Jesuit school in the English-speaking world.
Famous for its many notable graduates – people like John Carroll and Arthur Conan Doyle (who describes Baskerville Hall in Hound of the Baskervilles as a brick-for-brick remake of Stonyhurst Castle), the estate was originally the home of the Shireburn family. When in 1794 the title passed to a cousin, he donated the land and buildings to the Jesuits in gratitude for their having educated him at their English-speaking college on the Continent – a necessity due to the anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit laws of England.
Other than their attire – school blazers, school sweaters and school ties – the students at Stonyhurst look just like students at Saint Ignatius. The freshmen in my classes delighted at the revelation by one of the “Stony boys” that they have to write A.M.D.G. “at the top of their pages.” Some things are so fundamental to a Jesuit education that they transcend time and place.
For so many generations of students in Jesuit schools writing A.M.D.G. at the “top of our pages” was so routine that it fell into the category of background noise – we didn’t really even notice it after the first few weeks of freshman year. And, it was almost a stand-alone of “Jesuit identity” at the time with only “St. Ignatius – pray for us” at the end of the Hail Mary that began each class as its companion.
Today, so much of Saint Ignatius remains the same, and yet so much has changed – for the better. We were much less – to use a vogue term, and for that I apologize profusely – “intentional” than we are today. A.M.D.G. is a part of the air that our students breathe and the water (some might say, “Kool Aid”) that they drink. It would literally be impossible for a student to avoid those four letters for more than a few minutes as they make their way through a busy school day. Not only do they write it on their papers, but it is on their clothing, on posters, etched in glass, and even emblazoned on the floor. It, literally, defines us.
The essential nature of traditions, like the ubiquitous presence of A.M.D.G., is that they are alilve in the minds and hearts of those who are united with them. It is that bond – that tie of new days to the old – which makes schools like Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland and Stonyhurst College in Clitheroe so important to those who went there, those who sent their children there, those who hope to attend there, and those whose generosity makes such a future possible.
For centuries, schools like Saint Ignatius and Stonyhurst have relied on the generosity of others to be able to continue carrying on such traditions from generation to generation. Very few gifts include three hundred acres and a castle, but every gift given for God’s greater glory affords the next crop of students to, with a sense of gratitude and humility, continue the unbroken chain of those who are fortunate enough to be able to write A.M.D.G. at the tops of their pages – and sometimes at the bottom.