Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2016
The Society of Jesus, founded by Saint Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556) and established in 1540 by Pope Paul III, aimed at promoting the salvation of both its members (the Jesuits) and the rest of humankind. Although it was not intended as an educational order, from the beginning the society was interested in providing its members with a complete university education. Rather than adhere strictly to their vow of poverty, by 1539 the founding members of the society had decided to undertake the costs of educating some talented students who, if they qualified, would become members of the order. These young students, called “Scholastics,” were initially housed in colleges near an established university where they took courses. The Jesuit college functioned as a boardinghouse and also offered some pedagogical support, such as repetitions of daily lessons and practice for disputations. Around 1545, owing to student discontent with the regular university courses, the colleges at Padua and Coimbra began to offer their own courses taught by students who had completed the coursework. Their success led to the acceptance of students outside the society (Giard 1993, 129, 133, 138–39).
Francisco de Borgia, member of the society since 1546, first proposed the establishment of a public Jesuit college in his hometown. This led to the establishment of a second kind of Jesuit institution: a college that was not affiliated with a university but which functioned independently, offering students both room and board and a complete education. In addition, students from the neighboring areas were accepted as externs and were provided with the same free education as the interns. Opening up the Jesuit schools to the general public had several advantages: it allowed the poor to gain an education as well as the rich, opposed the spread of Protestantism, and brought in much needed funds. The experiment proved so successful that the Jesuits were overwhelmed with invitations to establish schools in the 1550s (Heilbron 1982, 93). By the time of Saint Ignatius's death in 1556 there were 33 Jesuit colleges in Europe; by 1615 the number had grown to 373 (Donohue 1963, 26). The colleges also grew in size; for example, in 1584, there were no less than 2,108 students at the Collegio Romano (Fitzpatrick 1933, 26).