It has been almost 50 years since Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s now-famous “Men for Others” talk. Fittingly, this Basque-born Superior General of the Society of Jesus, delivered his address on the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The audience on that day, July 31, 1973, was a group of alumni of Jesuit institutions from around Europe, and there is no way they could have known either the uproar surrounding or the impact of the talk that they heard.
On that day I was a few weeks away from beginning my freshman year at Saint Ignatius High School, and so my connection with Jesuit education literally spans the entirety of the “Men for Others” era. About a decade later another young man would be introduced to the Jesuits through his time at John Carroll University, and those men would so impress young Tim Kesicki that he would go on not only to become a member of their Company, but would climb the ranks to become the President of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.
Yesterday morning Fr. Kesicki, President Emeritus of Saint Ignatius, spoke to our school community via Zoom from his office in Washington, D.C. He did so as the presenter of this year’s Fr. Robert J. Welsh, S.J. ’54, Lecture, and his topic was that very document that has, for the past five decades, so shaped who the Jesuits are.
Fr. Kesicki presented an historical, decade-by-decade, view of Fr. Arrupe’s speech from the 1970s and 1980s when it was met with real resistance and produced profound polarization, through the difficult 1990s when education for justice routinely jettisoned the necessity of faith, and into this century where in the 2000s and 2010s Church scandals and the disaffiliation of young people has produced a generation of “Nones” - those who are no longer religious or even “spiritual” but secular and content to live in the moment.
The most sobering visual in Fr. Kesicki’s presentation was a pie chart showing the ages when young people say that they “left the Church”: almost all leave before adulthood, and the greatest number leave during their high school years. These numbers do not paint a rosy picture for the Church in America, but those of us in Catholic education are called to find ways to hold on to those who are still connected to the Church and to bring back those who have left.
The last topic that Fr. Kesicki addressed seems to me to be the key to a brighter future for the Church and the young people who decide to be active members of the Catholic community: Faith. Faith driven by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, faith lived in answer to God’s call, and faith that is a courageous witness in a hostile world.
The motto of the Society of Jesus is Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, For the Greater Glory of God. St. Irenaeus, hundreds of years before St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits, said, “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Therefore, it seems logical to propose that Jesuit education, if it is to do all for God’s glory, must, of necessity, focus all its efforts on helping young people to become fully alive. And if they are to become fully alive they must see faith in action, they must see a courageous witness to the Gospel, they must see in us - all of us - what Fr. Arrupe highlighted as he closed his “Men for Others” talk: “the God who, by becoming Man, became, beyond all others, a Man-for-others.”