|Fr. Mark P. Scalese, S.J.|
Once there were nearly 100 Jesuits — members of an order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in the 16th century — at Fairfield University. Today, there are 22. Only six are professors; the others are administrators, or retired. That means some of the university’s 3,200 undergraduates will make it through four years without having a single Jesuit professor. The graying of the Jesuit population is felt at each of the 28 Jesuit-run institutions of higher learning in the United States, from Georgetown University in Washington, founded in 1789, to Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, established in 1954. Nationwide, the number of Jesuits has declined, to under 3,000 from about 10,000 in 1965. More than half are over age 60.
That they aren’t being replaced by younger Jesuits is the result of social and economic circumstances, including increased opportunity for poor Catholics and the stringent requirements of the priesthood. (“In my experience, mandatory celibacy is far and away the biggest deal breaker,” says Father Scalese.)
But the declining numbers “don’t mean we’re all sulking off into the sunset,” says the Rev. Dr. Charles L. Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
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