Schoolmasters and Preachers
Jacques Barzun, in From Dawn to Decadence, his cultural history of the West, delivers this assessment of the mid-17th-century Society of Jesus:
Meanwhile, by care and thought and continually revised methods,
the Jesuits shone as schoolmasters—unsurpassed in the history of
education. They taught secular subjects as well as church doctrine
and did so with unexampled understanding and kindness toward
their pupils. Their success was due to the most efficient form of
teacher training ever seen. They knew that born teachers are as
scarce as true poets and that the next best cannot be made casually
out of indifferent materials, so they devised a preparation that in-
cluded exhaustive learning and a severe winnowing of the unfit at
every phase of a long apprenticeship.
This was the presuppression Society at the height of its influence, when it had set up so many schools in Europe that there were almost too many, in fact more than in the mid-19th century. But the improvisational context of establishing schools in what was still a frontier mission made exhaustive preparation an unattainable goal. When Michael Nash and Edward Tissot proctored study hall and played football with the boys at Fordham, they were still, as Jesuits, students themselves, with Latin theses in philosophy to memorize for the next day. Colleges for scholastics opened and closed according to how vocations rose and fell and where the men were needed, and the scholastics had to cheerfully pack and shuttle to another home.
The system was hard on their health and detrimental to their intellectual development. Ideally the formation process was supposed to move through graded steps, phases of action and contemplation, each building on the previous. First came two years of the novitiate, strict