Secondary Head Masters Conference. Can we talk about Jesus? 
Jesuit schools in a multi convictional context

The Loyola retreat center in northern Spain was swathed in snow at the end of February as it hosted a major gathering of the head masters of Jesuit schools in Europe.   
 A 125 head masters 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 JECSE steering committee member Brian Flannery said, “The plurality of religions found in Europe today is both enriching and challenging.  We have a more colorful 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, JECSE steering committee member and pastoral coordinator for the French Belgian Jesuit Schools, 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.

On Thursday, there was a speech by Dennis Gira, a French theologian of North American origin. The possibility of dialogue, based on his experience with Buddhism and his call to ’embrace the mysterie of each person’s life’, awakened in the audience an interesting debate that focused the work on dynamic groups. Also the ‘World cafe’ activated reflection on the theme.

After the sharing, the congressmen enjoyed a concert at the Sanctuary of Loyola. Friday ended the meeting with the on line participation of Ciara Beuster, Educate Magis, the social network in which all schools of Jesuits in the world are connected.