The founder of the Jesuits had a remarkably clear conviction that higher education was essential to those wishing to help others to be saved. This led him to devote many years to his own university education - even though he had to begin at an age when most students had already finished - and the early work of the Society of Jesus in Rome was inextricably linked with university teaching at the highest level.
This tradition has continued to our own day. There are some outstanding names, but these are only made possible by the support of a wide array of devoted secondary figures. For centuries they have run the ever-increasing number of university centres, spread from Chile to China, where teaching and research have gone hand in hand.
The need for the educated apostle goes back to St Paul. It is to help form such thinkers and speakers that Jesuits undertake tertiary education, and today the number of those, both clerics and lay, seeking such training is on the increase.
Almost since the foundation of the Society of Jesus in 1540 Jesuits have been engaged in the work of education. At first their attention was directed toward training new members for the Society. Then, in 1548, at the request of the citizens of Messina, Italy, Jesuits opened their first school for lay students. Today there are 3,730 Jesuit educational institutions throughout the world, caring for just over 2.5 million students. A little over 4,000 Jesuits and 125,000 lay, religious and clerical partners work together in the educational apostolates of the Society which include Fe y Alegría schools and programs (promoting social change by means of integral, popular education among impoverished populations, particularly in Latin America and Spain) and technical or professional schools as well as institutions of primary, secondary and higher education.