If you hang around Jesuit long enough you will eventually hear someone reference a ‘cannonball moment’. A cannonball moment is that moment when everything you think you believe is challenged by some spectacular, world-view altering event, and you are left with the task of relearning everything that you thought you knew. Cannonball moments may occur as a result of accidents, catastrophes, misjudgements, or misunderstandings. Sometimes they are personal, isolated to just a few, and other times they are very public, shared by entire societies. One thing that they all have in common though is that they split life into two distinct parts; before and after. Before the cannonball I expect my life to go one direction, and after the cannonball, I learn that it is going in another.
So why do we call it a ‘cannonball moment?’ Because 500 years ago a young Spanish soldier was struck in the leg by a cannonball during a French siege against a castle in Pamplona. In the years that immediately followed, he left his old life behind and took on the mantle of a priest who came to be known as Ignatius of Loyola and succeeded in founding the Jesuit order. Their influence spread around the world through the work of his companions in the Society of Jesus.
This year the Society of Jesus celebrates the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius' conversion, which began on the day that he was struck in the leg by that cannonball. During this year of celebration, we are invited to reflect on five hundred years worth of gifts borne from the work of the Society, and among them are the 3,370 Jesuit schools around the world that care for and form 2.5 million students each year. In the United states there are 30 Jesuit colleges and 81 pre-secondary and secondary schools, and all of them are dedicated to developing competent, compassionate, and committed leaders in the service of the Church and society.
On his own, before his cannonball moment, Ignatius most likely would not have been so influential, but through the work of his early companions, the Society spread, and as their numbers grew they formed apostolates all around the world. Without that one lucky shot to Ignatius’ knee five hundred years ago your son would be attending school somewhere else and you would not be reading this letter.
In the spring of 2020 we all experienced a shared cannonball moment. Many around the world are still in the throes of dealing with the initial strike, but for us, we are now left to determine what our new world-view will be. For us here at school this summer, it has led to a reflection on what we were able to accomplish last year, and what things were left
undone, untended to. It has also renewed in us the need to answer the question, ‘What does the world need from us and our students right now?’
Whenever we are faced with such questions, we return to our foundation, and reflect on what it is that we say that we are. This is most succinctly stated in Jesuit’s Mission Statement:
Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas offers an excellent, Catholic education in the classical Jesuit tradition to form a community of men with high moral principles who are dedicated to serving others.
Our mission sets us apart from other schools in the area, and I think it’s important to start here this year, as the pandemic has given all of us the opportunity to reflect on what it is that we are truly about and then set our new course accordingly. I have had several conversations with people in our community about our mission statement this summer, and I’ve come to understand that, while many can tell me the spirit of our mission, few can actually tell me the words. When I ask students, some of them tell me the school’s mission is to be ‘college prep.’ Others tell me that it is to form a community. Others get closer by telling me that the mission is to form ‘men for others.’
I appreciate the last sentiment the most, because ‘Men for Others’ does capture a great deal of what we say that we do here. The notion of being a ‘man for others’ originates from a talk given in 1973 by Father Pedro Arrupe, 28th Superior General to the Society of Jesus, to a group of alumni from Jesuit schools around the world. That talk was shaped by current events of the day, but they are still relevant for us now in 2021. During that talk he brought into our vernacular the expression, saying, “Men-for-others: the paramount objective of Jesuit education - basic, advanced, and continuing - must now be to form such men.” These men are, ‘filled with the Spirit; and we know whose Spirit that is: the Spirit of Christ, who gave his life for the salvation of the world; the God who, by becoming Man, became, beyond all others, a Man-for-others.”
Pedro Arrupe, Men for Others, 1973
That talk is available here (https://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/men-for-others.html) and I encourage you to read it, as it clearly states what we are about and outlines many of the foundational ideas of the classical Jesuit education referenced in our school’s mission statement.
But to our adolescent sons as they prepare for the school year I will simplify it all by saying that our overarching theme for this coming year is to encourage them to be lIke
Ignatius after that fateful injury to his leg 500 years ago. Not long after he left his sick bed, he journeyed to Rome with the hope of finding a way to serve the Church. Upon his arrival he learned that he did not have the formal education necessary to serve the Church as a priest, so he enrolled at the University of Paris where he met the men who would eventually become the founding fathers of the Jesuit order. Ignatius went to school, and while there he gathered his companions. Then the hard work began; the world-changing work began.
This is where we will start the school year with your sons - with a call to gather their companions. As he makes friendships over the course of his time here he will also be learning about the world. We will be talking with him about the fundamentals, the formal things that are measured in exams and in standardized tests, but we will also be sharing with him strategies for recognizing and appreciating the intangible things that make up the human experience, and providing him with opportunities to experience them for himself. These intangibles; love, respect, spirituality, compassion, and justice, among others, are the gifts that nourish us towards our full potential as people formed in the image of God.
I am looking forward to seeing your sons in August, and also to seeing you over the course of the year. This year will be different from last, in that we will once again be hosting activities for parents on campus. Please consider this an invitation to gather companions of your own as we all gather together once again back here at Jesuit.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.
Thomas E. Garrison