Think back to Welcome Week of freshman year when every incoming student was met with the same message: receiving a Jesuit education is a special opportunity.
We’re not the only ones who think so. The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities recently released a study concluding that 9 percent of Congress is composed of alumni from Jesuit universities. 48 of the 535 are Jesuit-educated; 37 in the House of Representatives and 11 in the Senate.
Many of these members of Congress hail from institutions like Georgetown University or Boston College. While there are none from Seattle U, the university demonstrates the benefits of a Jesuit education.
“A Jesuit education challenges students to think clearly, think for themselves, and test commonly accepted knowledge,” reads the Seattle U website. “Academic curiosity becomes a lifelong habit.”
Since their founding by St. Ignatius of Loyola, Jesuits have been known for valuing education. To educate in the Jesuit way means to apply knowledge hand-in-hand with ethical and community responsibility.
With 9 percent of Congress graduated from universities that practice this breed of education, there could be a link between Jesuit values and politics.
In terms of how they vote, seven of the 11 Jesuit alumni in the Senate are Democrats, and four are Republicans. 29 of the Jesuit alumni in the House of Representatives are Democrats, and eight are Republicans.
SGSU At-Large Representative Owen Goetze said that the Jesuit mission attracted him to politics in the first place.
“Part of the reason I picked Seattle University was the Jesuit mission being seeking just and humane solutions to problems that affect marginalized communities, and I just saw that government having a big role in that and being able to help more equitably distribute benefits and burdens to people,” Goetze said.
Goetze is a Public Affairs and Economics major, and hopes to work in policy later on.
A Jesuit education is two-fold—on the one hand, it means a philosophy of education rooted in certain values. On the other hand, it is a practice of Catholicism, and thus religious in that way.
According to Father John Foster S.J., Jesuit education is usually associated with articulate graduates.
“I think one of the characteristics that a lot of people pick up about Jesuit education is that Jesuit graduates tend to be quite articulate,” said Foster.
Foster says that this can be good or bad. Articulate people can lead effectively, or corrupt effectively.
Foster says that it’s remarkable how many public figures there are that are Catholic—but that their interest in politics would have to be approached on a case by case basis.
“In Matteo Ricci College, our desire is that the graduate discover what it is that is driving them,” Foster said.
He said that what means fulfillment for each student can be found in a diverse array of possibilities.
“I don’t care whether they are garbage collectors or symphony leaders, every person can do great value, no matter what field they go into.”
Goetze says that in theory, the Jesuit education works pretty well. Students take classes across a wide variety of disciplines to learn a holistic view on how to solve problems.
Former SGSU Executive Vice President Mallory Barnes believes that if more people brought a multi-disciplinary influence to politics, it would make for a more well-rounded, efficient, and practical political system.
“I think the most prevalent Jesuit value that I can think of when I think of politics is educating the whole person, because I’m somebody who is a bit skeptical of our current national government and I question its effectiveness these days, just because our system has become so polarized and there’s no willingness to listen and to learn from experiences,” Barnes said.
Although Jesuit values are part of the university’s mission, it is hard to wholly separate them from the Catholic background of the institution.
“In the real world of the university, you’ve got a diverse faculty. You’ve got a diverse population of students coming to you,” Foster said.
Foster says that Jesuit values may be easier to grasp for those with previous knowledge of them, due to familiarity with Jesuit language, terminology and background. He says that this can make it difficult as an educator—to teach these values to a group of students with a diverse degree of exposure to Jesuit tradition.
“Not everybody comes with that degree of familiarity, with implicit Jesuit Catholic values,” Foster said.
Barnes said that for her, it hasn’t been a problem.
“I grew up in a non-religious home and I don’t identify, nor have I ever identified as Catholic or Jesuit Catholic, but I do identify with a lot of the values that I’ve learned since coming to [this] school,” said Barnes.
“We do our best to give the best possible education we can, and to bring that student to the highest level of self-reflection and so forth,” Foster said.
And if that leads to a career in politics, so be it.
Lena may reached at [email protected]