The first Jesuit School was opened in 1547 in Messina, Sicily.
Ignatius came to see education as a means of transforming the world. Chapter Four of the Jesuit Constitutions describe the colleges as being places where for those who teach and those who are taught “learning and living” improves.
In 1551, Fr. Polanco, was instructed to write a letter to the provincial superior of the Portuguese Jesuits outlining Ignatius’ vision for establishing schools:
From those who are at present merely students, in time some will depart to play diverse roles – one to preach and
carry on the care of souls, another to the government of the land and the administration of justice, and others
to other occupations. Finally, since young boys become grown men, their good education in life and doctrine
will be beneficial to many others, with the fruit expanding more widely everyday. (Ganss, 1956).
At the time of his death in 1556, Ignatius was overseeing thirty-five Jesuit Colleges. By 1773, as well as 176 seminaries for the training of priests, and 15 universities, the Jesuits were conducting 640 secondary schools in various parts of the world.
In 1583, the fourth Father General Claudius Aquaviva, commissioned six Jesuit education experts to produce the first draft of a document known as the Ratio Studiorum. This was “a manual of practice on how to conduct a class, what courses were to be taught year by year by year in the Jesuit schools, what classroom method was to be like, what books were to be used, what authors were to be treated” (The Jesuit Mystique, 1995). It's final publication occurred in 1599 and effectively established the first education system across the world.
According to the International Commission for Jesuit Education, in 2019, Jesuit Education is offered in over 110 countries accessible to all people from socio-economic backgrounds, Internationally it includes over 820 secondary schools and 1613 schools that focus their education toward the poorest and most marginalized peoples, particularly in parts of South America. There are 61 Jesuit Refugee service education projects offered across 22 countries.
Nearly 1650 Jesuits work alongside over 100,000 staff to educate nearly 2.4 million people.