Stonyhurst College: 1593 1993 by TE Muir (James & James, £26) Jimmy Burns .
FEW issues have produced as much debate within the Jesuit community in Britain in recent years as that of private education.
Being the largest and oldest of the three Jesuit-owned fee-paying schools in the UK. Stonyhurst in particular has focussed the attention of an order struggling to come to terms with the demands of a modern society that in its materialism and selfishness seems far removed from the noble principle § of St Ignatius.
This became only too clear to me five years ago, when as an old Stonyhurst boy, I interviewed the then newly-appointed head of the British province of the Jesuits. Fr Michael Campbell-Johnston.
CJ, as he is best known to friends and fellow "Jays", told me that "quite a few Jesuits" Were convinced they had too many schools in the UK. There was a falling number of Jesuits and there was a belief that they shbuld be doing other things than educating the children of the rich. They were also convinced that if the Jesuits had to choose which to withdraw from. the three private schools should be the first to go.
As it has turned out, Stonyhurst has survived but with its Jesuit presence greatly diminished as a result of a process that was already well under way prior to CJ's appointment. the bulk of its teaching staff, including the headmaster, are laymen, and its financial affairs are also largely in the hands of non-Jesuits. including professional fund-raisers.
hi recent years religious worship has also become less central to Stonyhurst than it once was. Gone are the three-day retreats that used to be held at the start of each school year for all boys, gone too the compulsory daily Masses before breakfast, and the elaborate religious-military parades marking key dates in the Church calendar. As this meticulously researched official history of Stonyhurst makes clear, the Jesuits and their schools have come a long way since Fr Robert Persons SJ founded Stonyhurst's precursor at St Omers in France in 1593, with an initial intake of sixteen and a grant of 1.900 crowns from Philip II of Spain.
These early beginnings cannot be properly understood outside the very particular historical context in which they took place: the persecution of the Catholic community during the Reformation. The many martyrs produced by St Omers is testimony to the central role the college played in defending the Catholic faith against the vigorous attempts at suppression by successive English governments.
As the school expanded in numbers. the Jesuit fathers remained ever present, ever watchftil, shaping religious habit and belief. 'Give me a boy at seven, and he is mine for life,' the old Jesuit boast goes. It certainly proved true in those days when to be a school boarder meant living in exile and in a war zone. At St Omers the day opened, as it was to do in Stohyhurst's earlier days, with prayers and meditation. True to St Ignatius's own guidelines for discipline, readings at meals were taken from a martyrology, and intended to "stiffen useful resolve against persecution".
In 1794, after three separate 'migrations', St Omers moved to Stonyhurst in Lancashire, in what Tom Muir identifies as a watershed in the College's history. 'Set in an urban environment St Omers represented an isolated introverted community; by contrast Stonyhurst is English, rural and shaped by the gradual integration of Catholics into the mainstream of British society.'
The question that has remained ever since, however. is to what extent has Stonyhurst managed to preserve among its pupils the typical Ignatian virtues of service for others and the idea of being 'used by God'.