School is in Session

The school re-opened the following fall, this time drawing 89 students for the 1856–57 term. These students, primarily the sons of Irish and Italian immigrants, went to a school whose purpose was distinct from that of public schools in the U.S. The purpose of Catholic, Jesuit education was not only to train students for a career but also, in the words of Nobili, “to cultivate the heart, to form and cherish good habits, to prevent and eradicate evil ones.”24 Maraschi, in establishing SI Academy, was carrying forth the spirit of Jesuit education laid out in the Ratio Studiorum, a guidebook for the establishment of Jesuit schools first published in 1599 and revised in 1832.

This “Magna Carta of Jesuit education” the Ratio Studiorum gave both St. Ignatius and Santa Clara colleges nearly the same prescribed curriculum as every other Jesuit school around the world. It included a study of the classic languages (Latin and Greek), the humanities (drama, history, and literature), theology and philosophy (which included natural sciences and mathematics). This new system of education “assumed that literary or humanistic subjects could be integrated into the study of professional or scientific subjects; that is, it assumed that the humanistic program of the Renaissance was compatible with the Scholastic program of the Middle Ages.”25

Fr. Richard Gleeson, SJ, described the Ratio Studiorum this way: “In that system, the teacher exacts either by himself or through the boys themselves the memory exercise. He then gives … whether [for] one of the ancient classics or the modern, a Prelection so-called. A passage is read and thoroughly gone over with attention to the grammatical structure and idioms in the lower classes, to the various beauties of style in the intermediate classes, to the structure and imagery and rhythm in the class for Humanities or Poetry, and to the principles of oratory in the class of Rhetoric. A similar Prelection is given in the precepts of grammar, of poetry, of eloquence in the respective classes, with insistence not so much on the diction of the author followed, as on his thoughts. These Prelections are exacted from the individual students on the following days. Weekly repetitions, monthly repetitions; half-yearly and yearly repetitions go over the same matter. It is drill, drill, drill. The teacher is alive and he keeps his class alive. The Prefect of Studies visits the classes systematically, inspects the work, encourages pupils and teachers, and, when there is need, corrects the former and instructs the latter. The ideal teacher will draw out his individual pupils. He will train them to think, to think clearly and deeply and promptly. He will train them to express their thoughts quickly, elegantly, forcibly. The boy is being equipped for his work in life, professional, mercantile, mechanical. He will be able to concentrate his powers on any matter that comes for his consideration and give an account of his thoughts and his investigation…. In all this training one point cannot be sufficiently noted — the individual touch. Each teacher in this system reaches out to and affects each of his pupils in whom he is personally interested.”26

While the SI curriculum included such traditional fare as Latin, Greek, English, French, Spanish, poetry, rhetoric, elocution, history, geography, arithmetic, and moral philosophy, Maraschi felt pressure from students and parents to teach practical, vocational courses. As one Jesuit noted in 1866, “Oh what a waste of time are Latin and Greek, for so many students that I now see [are] working … as grocer, butcher, and who knows what else!”27 Jesuits believe in adapting their programs to fit the needs of the place in which they minister; thus, from the first, SI offered bookkeeping and “natural philosophy,” which translated into a study of practical sciences such as mineralogy, assaying and chemical analysis to prepare students to work in the mining industry. In fact, miners brought their ore samples to the priests for assaying because the Jesuits had a reputation for honesty and accurate analysis.

Later, SI’s physics and chemistry cabinets (laboratories and collections) would grow to be among the best in the country. A national survey of science courses polled 500 American colleges and universities in 1880 and listed SI among 120 institutions judged to be “superior.” SI’s science courses were described as being “unusual” or “remarkable.”28

Younger students in the preparatory department studied spelling, reading, writing, the elements of arithmetic, history and geography.29 Students learned their subjects by writing compositions and engaging in discussions, disputations and contests. As in Italy, the academic year ended with a series of public examinations called saggi. One Jesuit noted that these events (where one had to show mastery of a subject such as Latin or rhetoric) “would have honored the Roman College to say nothing of any other college of our Italian provinces.”30

The Jesuits reined in their young charges with strict discipline, and Accolti bragged that his students showed “exact compliance with the rules of discipline.” Jesuit schools, he added were strict, but “of course not so stringent as that enforced at West Point.”31

This standardized system, which saw education not as an end but as a means (to glorify God, to perfect the self, to assist in the service of others), allowed priests to come from Europe and easily start teaching at SI and to move between Santa Clara and St. Ignatius Colleges with little difficulty as the curriculum, textbooks, examinations and philosophy of education were the same. “This allowed for plug-in teachers who could be moved as needed,” according to Fr. Kotlanger. This practice continued well into the 20th century when centralized oversight ended.

The priests and brothers sent by the Turin Province established the reputations for years to come of both St. Ignatius and Santa Clara Colleges. Up until 1909, when California became its own province, nearly 100 priests, brothers and scholastics from Italy came to California and the Pacific Northwest to work as teachers and missionaries. In fact, of SI’s first 14 rector-presidents, only four were non-Italians.32 Later, with the establishment of the novitiate in Santa Clara, many native-born Americans joined those Italians.

One Irish-born teacher noted that the Jesuits from Turin were “like the Greeks after the fall of Constantinople. They brought with them libraries, scientific instruments and the education and habits, which fit men for the life of teaching. The Fathers, however, labored under one defect — both in the pulpit and in the classroom. They spoke and taught in a language not altogether English, and their manners and ideas were too Italian to meet the taste of the young Republicans of the West.”33 Because of this limitation, Jesuits from the East Coast came to help their California brothers.

These refugee priests included “gentlemen of great culture and personal charm” as well as “impressive academic credentials” such as Fr. Aloysius Varsi, SJ, who, to prepare himself for a career as an astronomer in the Jesuit-run Imperial Observatory in China, studied at the University of Paris, the same college that Ignatius and many other Jesuit scholars had attended. Other noteworthy scholars included Fr. Joseph Bayma, SJ, a mathematician, philosopher and theoretical physicist whose Elements of Molecular Mechanics “earned him recognition as a pioneer in stereochemistry,” and Fr. Anthony Cichi, SJ, and Fr. Joseph Neri, SJ, both skilled scientists. Neri was the first to introduce electric lights to San Francisco and lit Market Street in 1876 with “arc lights of his own invention” to help celebrate the nation’s centennial.34 (More on these men in upcoming chapters.)

These great priests also brought with them a devotional life that was alien to much of the western United States. They structured the school calendar around feast days and holy days of obligation. “Pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Joseph [the patron saint of the California Province] in March, Marian devotions in May, Corpus Christi processions in June, the construction of elaborate crèches at Christmastime — all were standard fare. These rituals of Mediterranean Catholicism nurtured a sense of solidarity and reminded practitioners that their church was universal.” This structured practice became popular as the Catholic population of the state grew with the influx of Irish, German and Italian immigrants.35