Jesuits provide papal connection to Australia
The election of Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio last month as leader of the world's billion Catholics delivered a litany of firsts - the Pope was the first to take the name Francis, the first pontiff from South America and he was the first Jesuit.
Unique among Catholic religious orders, Jesuits take a fourth vow. While they all promise poverty, chastity and obedience, only Jesuits pledge obedience to the pope.
So Pope Francis surprised everyone, not least Australian Jesuits.
"We were set up to serve the pope, not be one," says Greg O'Kelly, a Jesuit priest who is also the Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese in South Australia. "We're taken aback somewhat."
Coincidentally with a Jesuit pontiff, Australians are poised for their own Jesuit experience. The separation of church and state may be a given, but through a mix of masculine Christianity and svelte intellectualism, the Jesuits seem to have been able to hardwire a large slice of the next shift of Australia's political leaders. If Tony Abbott wins the federal election, 20 per cent of his likely ministry are products of a Jesuit education.
A religious order founded in the 16th century, the Jesuits' dictum - "give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man" - resonates in modern life as the inspiration for the long-running Seven Up television documentary.
Jesuits have been in the business of grooming future leaders since the time of Counter-Reformation, when these "foot soldiers of Christ" went on the offensive to recapture "lost souls" to Protestantism.
The order was founded by Spanish nobleman Ignatius of Loyola, who turned religious after his leg was shattered by a French cannonball. He was obsessed with education and demanded that his followers be well-versed in secular sciences such as mathematics as well as theology and philosophy, so they could be properly armed to argue the church's case.
Jesuits' successes with converting and educating European royalties and nobility have been credited for the church's success in regaining lost ground in part of Europe such as Poland and southern Germany. Jesuit missionaries also took their well-honed strategy with them to Asia, where they patiently cultivated and converted a Chinese scholar-gentry class, including even a prime minister in the imperial court.
The head of the Society of Jesus, the Father General, is colloquially called "The Black Pope". It's a perjorative term, shaped by the Jesuits' remarkable history. Although they dismiss such terms as "God's marines", Jesuits were reviled and routinely portrayed as unshaven and semitic. Over the centuries, the order was suppressed and banished. Switzerland, for instance, kicked out Jesuits in 1848, allowing them back only in 1973.
Initially, much of the fear and loathing resulted from the Jesuit performance as a hit squad during the Counter-Reformation. And perhaps there was a touch of envy. Jesuits were far better educated than most contemporary clergy and their intellectual dexterity and talent for fitting morals to suit the occasion infuriated many and gave rise to the abusive adjective "jesuitical".
(Little wonder then that the ability to switch positions surfaced in Jesuit school debating teams, a skill coincidentally much admired among politicians.)
Curiously, since the Vatican II reforms in the 1960s, and the liberation theology that came with it, the order has been perceived by some as anti-establishment, even socialist: South American Jesuits carried machineguns and cartridge under their cassocks and were routinely accused of fermenting the Castro revolution.
It was revolution in Europe that brought Jesuits to Australia. In 1848, with Jesuits being expelled all over the continent, German settlers in South Australia asked for chaplains. The head of the Jesuits in Austria sent two priests who established a mission in Clare Valley. The winery they founded to produce sacramental wine at Sevenhills is still producing.
When the gold rush started in 1851, there were some 9000 Catholics in the new colony of Victoria. Thousands of Irish Catholics had fled the Irish famine or completed convict sentences in Sydney and Tasmania and went to Melbourne to work in service. By 1865 there were 100,000 Catholics in Melbourne. Two Irish Jesuits arrived that year.
They opened what became known as the Richmond mission, with its landmark church, St Ignatius, on Richmond Hill. They also assumed charge of bankrupt Saint Patrick's College. It was an important acquisition. Sited next to St Patrick's Cathedral, it allowed the Jesuits to sit in the pocket of the Catholic archbishop and play a continuing role in the political development of Australia after federation. On another commanding hill in Kew, the Jesuits founded Xavier College in 1872.
Six years later, the Jesuits hit Sydney. They set up a mission in North Sydney that endures as the Parish of Our Lady of the Way, opened the forerunner of Saint Aloysius' College, Kirribilli, a year later and Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview, in 1880. Abbott, and his possible deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, both attended Saint Ignatius.
Unlike other more modest Catholic schools catering for the masses, Jesuit colleges are the church's answers to Protestant educational establishments such as Melbourne Grammar School.
Through a mixture of educational excellence, snobbery and astute appreciation of societal changes, the Jesuits built and retained a stranglehold on shaping the intellectual development of the sons of well-to-do Australian Catholics.
The grip may be strongest in Melbourne. Along with Geelong College, Geelong Grammar, Melbourne Grammar, Scotch College and Wesley College, Xavier was a founding members of Associated Public Schools, an organisation based on the English public school tradition. The Jesuits also saw the future was tertiary education, in 1918 opening Newman College, one of the University of Melbourne halls of residence.
The head of the Jesuit order in Australia, Father Steve Curtin, said the perception of elitism of Jesuit schools is only partly true. He said his order also ran schools in the poorest parts of the world. He said the quality of Jesuit education created a dilemma. "Because the quality of education is very good, there is a tendency for them to gradually become very expensive and exclusive ... because wealthy and influential families want their children to go to Jesuit schools," he said.
In 2011, pressure to better address social justice issues saw the opening of Jarjum College in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern. The first new Jesuit school in 60 years, it catered to disadvantaged students who could not attend regularly.
Like many religious orders, the Jesuits' future is increasingly unclear - there are 138 Australian Jesuits, but no novitiates are currently taking the decade-long course for ordination as a priest - and the path of the royal commission into sex abuse is unpredictable.
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