Sophia University

About The Society of Jesus and the Education of Women

The Society of Jesus and the Education of Women

The Society of Jesus and the Education of Women

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540. At that time there were no junior and senior high schools, much less universities, where men and women learned together. Thus, all the Jesuit collegia were schools for young men only. That tradition remained for quite a long time, and the admission of young women into schools administered by Jesuits is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Ignatius himself, however, considered Mary, the Blessed Mother, as the ideal of all women. He confesses that before his conversion "his highest ideal was to enter into the service of a certain noble lady". Afterwards, he changed and 'upgraded' his aspirations to be of service to Mary his Lady.

Ignatius, leaving behind his uniform as a knight and all of his other worldly possessions, spent one night standing in prayer before a statue of the Blessed Mother in the church at the Benedictine monastery on Mount Montserrat near Barcelona. This experience makes clear his deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. Everywhere in his book The Spiritual Exercises, one can read of his great love and respect for the Mother of Jesus.

This ideal of Ignatius can be seen in the fruits of the activities of the Society of Jesus. Unlike many other male religious orders, the Society of Jesus does not have any second orders (for religious sisters = nuns) or third orders (for pious lay people). Yet, from the foundation of the order, the Jesuits have worked with various associations of lay Catholics. The Sodalities of Our Lady (Congregazioni Marianae) have developed under the spiritual direction of many Jesuits, so that the members can direct their activities to the spread of the Gospel into human society. Recently these organizations have begun to call themselves Christian Life Communities (CLC).

Moreover, there are several religious orders for women whose rules are based directly on the rules in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, even though they do not share the name "Society of Jesus". In Japan, examples include the Society of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ), whose members are responsible for the University of the Sacred Heart, the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (ACI), who are responsible for Seisen Women's University, and the Congregation of Mary.

Sophia University became co-educational in 1957, when four young women who had already graduated from a junior college were admitted to Sophia University as transfer students. In the following year (1958), women students were accepted as first-year students for the first time. Behind the smooth acceptance of women students into Sophia, one can detect the long, albeit indirect experience in the education of women referred to above. At this time, when Sophia faculty and staff members, graduates, and even current students learned of the decisions to admit women students, not a few expressed the fear that Sophia would lose its special character. Much to the contrary, however, Sophia has lost nothing because of the change. Thanks to the energetic activities of our women graduates in society in Japan and abroad, among other factors, Sophia's reputation has greatly improved and the name of the university has spread much more widely.