European Jesuit schools meet to talk about Jesus

JECSE delegates in session
JECSE delegates in session

The Loyola Retreat Centre in northern Spain was swathed in snow last week as it hosted a major gathering of the head teachers of Jesuit schools in Europe.  Heads of all the Jesuit schools in the UK attended, alongside colleagues from Portugal to Poland.

125 head teachers travelled from across Europe to the birth place of St Ignatius for the triennial European Jesuit Primary and Secondary Education Conference (JECSE) entitled “Can we talk about Jesus – Jesuit schools in a multi-faith context”.

Education Delegate for the Irish Jesuits and conference steering committee member Brian Flannery said, “The plurality of religions found in Europe today is both enriching and challenging.  We have a more colourful public discourse but we can encounter barriers - sometimes the very mention of the name Jesus can inhibit dialogue, even within the Catholic tradition.  We wanted the conference to consider this contradiction and to give confidence to our head teachers that Jesus, far from being an obstacle to dialogue, can become the source and the means of an open, deep and fruitful dialogue in a multi-faith world”.

Adrian Porter SJ, the Delegate for Education of the Jesuits in Britain, was one of two keynote speakers.  He guided delegates through five key points in the life of St Ignatius when he found those deep encounters with Christ which became his mission to share with the world.  Fr Porter translated these into five key questions for head teachers in Jesuit schools:

  • How do you propose to your students and alternative vision of life based on the values of the Gospel? (Inspired by St Ignatius' dream of the call of the king.)
  • How do your students come to a deep knowledge of Jesus? (Inspired by St Ignatius' pilgrimage to the Holy Land.)
  • How do you move them from knowledge to intimacy with Jesus? (Inspired by St Ignatius' sensory immersion in the Gospels.)
  • How do you talk about vocation in your school? (Inspired by St Ignatius' vision of Christ at La Storta.)
  • How do you create a sense of worldwide community through the network of Jesuit schools? (Inspired by St Ignatius' establishment of the international Society of Jesus.)

“The atmosphere of the conference this year was one of great ‘esprit de corps’” commented Brian, “people were very engaged and connected with each other, perhaps demonstrating a closer attachment to the European ideal and the value of coming together to share experience.”

One afternoon was devoted to spiritual content and seeking inner peace. Bernard Peeters SJ, steering committee member and delegate for education for the French Belgian Jesuits, devised a meditative walk which delegates could take at their own pace, following an itinerary to sites associated with St Ignatius’ life story, accompanied by reflection and prayer.

The European conference also sought to build on the work of the first international congress for Jesuit education delegates held in Rio de Janeiro in October 2017, at which Fr General Arturo Sosa identified six key challenges for Jesuit education:

  • Innovation
  • Education for justice
  • Education in care for our common home
  • Safeguarding
  • Transformational experience of Christian faith, and
  • Global citizenship.

Brian Flannery explained “each delegate was able to work with a group on three of these themes in a “world café” model of engagement, to share and consider how best to meet the challenges.”

Loyola retreat house swathed in snow

Loyola retreat centre in the snow