With elections around the corner, who would think of educators and their influence? At an event last week, Father Arturo Sosa SJ — the Superior General of the worldwide Jesuit organisation and a political scientist himself — met a few hundred alumni from Jesuit-run schools and colleges. The latter were happy to acknowledge the influence of Jesuit education on their lives. The Society of Jesus runs 12 acclaimed educational institutions in Mumbai — five institutions of higher education, St. Xavier’s College, Xavier Institute of Communications, Xavier Institute of Management, St. Xavier’s Institute of Education, Xavier Institute of Engineering and seven schools, Campion, St. Xavier’s, Holy Family, St. Mary’s SSC, St. Mary’s ICSE, Xavier’s Boys Academy and St. Stanislaus. To mark this occasion, a video depicting the contribution of Jesuits to education was released at the Magis Conclave held at St. Stanislaus High School, Bandra.
Twelve eminent alumni of Jesuit institutions feature in the video — Soli Sorabjee, Adi Godrej, Adille Sumariwala, Adil Chagla, Farokh Udwadia, M M Somaya, Shubha Tole, Rajdeep Sardesai, Major General Ian Cardozo, Venkatesh Srinivasan, Josy Paul and Renuka Shahane. They paid tributes to the contribution of their Jesuit alma mater to their lives. Sardesai pointed out that if all the alumni from these institutions, who have made a mark in different fields, were to be featured together, they would fill a stadium. The value-based education that the Jesuits and their faculty have provided for well over a century has resulted in alumni who have made significant contribution to Indian society in varied walks of life. All have imbibed the values of excellence and of integrity, wanting to reach for the “more” — the “Magis” in Jesuit terminology.
The Magis Conclave itself brought together eminent alumni including several interviewed for the video, others like Anu Aga, Julio Ribeiro and about 200 more; all expressed grateful sentiments and encouraged Jesuit education to take bold steps. Education that fosters inclusiveness, discipline, freedom of thought, impartiality across communities and classes, and instills courage to oppose evil was seen as a part of the “tremendous vision” ascribed to the Jesuits’ value system by Soli Sorabjee.
Father Sosa, in turn, commended the alumni for living the values they imbibed and invited them to a partnership with the Jesuits in contributing to the formation of a community of people who “live for others”. Today, as Jesuits take quality education to the margins — rural areas, tribal communities, Dalits and other disadvantaged groups — while remaining committed to engaging with all sections of Indian society, the alumni have a crucial role to play in bringing expertise, resources and civil society support in times of crisis and in contributing to a vision for education for the future so that the needs of a global but much-fragmented world may be addressed. Father Sosa spoke passionately of the great resource that the network of Jesuit alumni could be in society.
The Jesuits are known to focus on “discernment” — seeking and getting in touch with divine wisdom and in reading the signs of the times. The action of the alumni, who are influenced by this principle, would surely have political repercussions, especially at a time when propaganda, false claims, fake news and suppression of dissent are great challenges. Jesuit alumni, who bring excellence to their own fields, should also summon the courage to raise voices against hatred, exclusiveness and sectarianism. Civil society involvement in public policy is the guarantee of true democracy and those schooled in universal values and human rights need to be involved in the public debate on development and democratic institutions. A network of influential alumni would be a force to reckon with.
The Magis Conclave saw Jesuit alumni encouraging their mentors and educators to continue the task of bringing quality education to those most in need. But the takeaway from the event was the great need for Jesuit institutions to harness the goodwill, expertise and the support of the alumni in the task of developing a vision for good education and taking such education to the millions of Indians thirsting for it. The alumni acknowledged that the Jesuit system of education that inculcates values and inspires compassionate commitment would make a significant difference to India in the 21st century.
Will such education and educators have an influence in the elections that are around the corner?
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 15, 2019, under the title ‘The call of democracy.’ The writer is a former principal, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.