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The Society of Jesus and the Founding of Sophia University

The Society of Jesus and the Founding of Sophia University

Sophia University is part of the academic legal person Jochi Gakuin. This legal person was instituted by the Society of Jesus, one of the male Roman Catholic religious orders. St. Ignatius Church, which is located very near Sophia University, is also administered by the Society of Jesus, although it is part of a religious activities legal person. The name of the Church, Ignatius, is the name of the founder and first religious superior (general) of the Society of Jesus: Ignatius Loyola (born 1491-died July 31st 1556). Sophia University has a school holiday on December 3rd, the feast of Xavier, and celebrates a variety of events in connection with this feast. Saint Francis Xavier (born April 9th 1506-died December 3rd 1552) participated along with Ignatius in the foundation of the Society of Jesus. As is well-known, Xavier spread the teaching of Christianity in Japan in 1549, the first preacher to do so. When a Jesuit signs his name, he adds the letters S.J. after his signature; inside the Sophia campus a building with the carved inscription S.J. House above the door faces the main street. These two letters are the abbreviation of the Latin name of the Society of Jesus-Societas Jesu.

Although Sophia University was founded only later, in 1913, this foundation was very strongly influenced by the visit to Japan ten years earlier, in 1903, of one of the three founding Jesuits, the German Joseph Dahlmann, who came from Germany via India to Japan. He listened to the urgent requests of Catholics living in Japan, who wanted the construction of a Catholic university in Japan to serve as a cultural base for the Catholic Church there. During the so-called Kirishitan period of Japanese history, the Society of Jesus had indeed opened educational institutions in Japan called Collegios or Seminarios, which had served as bridges of culture between East and West. The Catholics in Japan asked Joseph Dahlmann for members of the Society of Jesus to be sent again to Japan. As quickly as possible, Dahlmann reported this request to the offices of the Pope in Rome, the so-called Holy See.

Two years later, in 1905, Dahlmann received a private audience with the then Pope, Pius X. The Pope seems to have promised to assign the Society of Jesus to work again in Japan and specifically to found a Catholic university in Japan. Dahlmann wrote (in Latin) in his memoirs about this audience that the Pope spoke as follows: Habebitis collegium in Japonica, magnam universitatem (in English: you (plural) will have in Japan a college that is a great university). It is very interesting that in this report of the Pope's words to Dahlmann he does not use the word college to mean a simple one-subject educational institution but rather to mean a general university where many subjects are taught. In other words, the Pope was not thinking of the kind of educational institutions that the Society of Jesus was at that time conducting in the United States, which were often called colleges but which really meant high schools. Rather the Pope was thinking of a tertiary-level educational institution that included several faculties, that is, a general university.

That same year, the Pope appointed Bishop (later Cardinal) O'Connell of Portland, Maine, as a special ambassador of the Vatican to Japan. He was told to proceed to Japan and survey the actual situation there. Bishop O'Connell had an audience with Emperor Meiji and ascertained the educational policy directions of the Educational Ministry in Japan. He reported to the officials of the Holy See that there was the possibility of starting a Catholic university in Japan. The Pope then took advantage of the fact that the 25th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus was meeting in Rome during the month of September in 1906. The Pope issued a formal written command to the Society of Jesus to start a Catholic university in Japan. The delegates at the Congregation voted unanimously to welcome this command of the Pope. Then the first concrete steps to prepare for the foundation of a university in Japan were undertaken.


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