Until the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV, the Jesuits had been the undisputed “schoolmasters of Europe.” In France, especially, the educational system of the Society had attained its most widespread development and its greatest fame. The nineteenth-century colleges, formed after the revival of the Society in 1814, never reached the number, size, or influence of their predecessors; but for their time and for the new obstacles they faced, these schools were important. Founded during a period of growing secularization, they faced the constant threat of political attack. Indeed, both their admirers and their critics believed that the Jesuit schools fostered in their graduates distinctive attitudes toward state and society.
John W. Padberg, S.J., has written the first full-length study of these colleges, from their revival in 1815 to their suppression in 1880. Drawing almost exclusively on archival material not previously utilized, Father Padberg places his study against the background of anti-clericalism, revolution, the Second Empire, and the first decade of the Third Republic. He describes the founding of the schools; their resources; their curriculum structure and content; their inner life—religious practices, the daily order, the social structure; and their relation to the political and social milieu of the times. He also discusses the backgrounds and ideological orientations of the faculty and students.
The author first portrays life in the semi-clandestine seminary schools in France from 1815 to 1828. He then depicts the experiences of the exile colleges on the borders of France. With the passage of the Falloux Law of 1850, Jesuit colleges became legal in France for the first time since the 18th century. Father Padberg describes the subsequent rush to found new schools and the resultant problems of lack of personnel, financial crises, and governmental suspicion. He discusses in detail the inner lives of these seventeen new colleges.
During the early years of the Third Republic, the Jesuits founded eleven more colleges. But the mutual fear and misunderstanding between the Society and the Republic and the growing anti-clericalism of the government came to a climax in 1880, when Jules Ferry expelled the Jesuits from these institutions and made impossible their control over any such schools in France.
Father Padberg concludes that during these sixty-five years the French Jesuit schools had little room to maneuver. Externally, government suspicion and hostility circumscribed them. Internally, they reacted to this hostility, which antedated the French Revolution, by the inability to adapt to contemporary circumstances their commitment to the values of a humane and Christian education.