Coinciding with the first Jesuit pontiff in papal history, Australians are poised for their own Jesuit experience. And interest in the order has accelerated world-wide. But now where more than in Australian politics they have received more prominence.
And some Australian Jesuits were surprised by the papal acquisition. “We were set up to serve the Pope, not be one,’‘ says Greg O’Kelly, a Jesuit priest and a Bishop in South Australia. ‘‘We’re taken aback somewhat.’‘
But it turns out that the Jesuits have been educating the ruling elite in Australia for many decades, applying their own popular dictum – “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” And “through a mix of masculine Christianity and svelte intellectualism, the Jesuits seem to have been able to hard-wire a large slice of the next shift of political leaders.” Tony Abbot and Barnaby Joyce are both old Ignatians and quite a few other members of the Abbott cabinet attended Jesuit colleges.
The “‘power behind the throne’ is a curious achievement,” wrote the Sydney Morning Herald, but not from an historical point of view.
“Under various disguises the Jesuits worked their way into offices of state, climbing up to be the counselors of kings, and shaping the policy of nations… They established colleges for the sons of princes and nobles, and schools for the common people… The Jesuits rapidly spread themselves over Europe, and wherever they went, there followed a revival of popery. Those are excerpts from the book Great Controversy, page 235.
The order was founded in 1540, 23 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg chapel and started the Protestant Reformation, which challenged the power of the Catholic Church. Its main purpose was to defend the Catholic faith and undo what Protestantism had done. Historically, they have been perceived as the “hit squad,” during the counter-reformation and often, even today, are referred to as “God’s marines.” They have been banned from just about everywhere and even suppressed by the pope himself.
With the ability to adapt their principles to the circumstances, they are skilled at switching positions in any debate, a talent admired by politicians. Hence, political life matches their abilities and philosophy quite well.
They have fomented political rebellions and have often been perceived as anti-establishment (unless of course they are the establishment). South American Jesuits, for instance, carried machine guns and bullet belts under their cassocks and were often accused of fermenting the Castro revolution.
When the Jesuits were expelled from the European continent for their political intrigues, they came to Australia. In 1848, “German settlers in South Australia asked for chaplains. The head of the Jesuits in Austria sent two priests. They established a mission in Clare Valley.” The Irish famine brought many Catholics to Australia. And in 1865 two more Jesuits arrived.
They opened urban missions and schools, especially in Melbourne. From there the Jesuits played a role in the political development of Australia after the federation. Later they started in Sydney with St. Aloysius’ College (1879) and St. Ignatius’ College (1880). Their graduates, from working class Catholic families, often went into public service. “For more than 100 years, through a mixture of educational excellence, snobbery, astute appreciation of societal changes and high fees, the Jesuits retained a stranglehold on shaping the intellectual development of the sons of well-to-do Australian Catholics. The grip may be strongest in Melbourne, where old-school ties remain a useful social lever.”
Jesuit education effectively guaranteed a high university entrance rate among their graduates. “The ranks of law, medicine and the higher echelons of commerce are filled with Jesuit products.” And “in recent years, the Jesuits have embraced coeducation.”
In 1966 Phillip Lynch, an Xavier graduate became the first practicing Catholic elected as a Liberal MP in Robert Menzies’ largely Protestant party. Another Xavier grad, Tim Fischer, was the leader of the Nationals, and was a deputy prime minister for a while. Nick Greiner, a graduate of St. Ignatius, led the NSW Liberals into power in 1988.
None of these men displayed overt signs of their Jesuit upbringings. Perhaps back then it was too dangerous. But today Jesuit credentials look very good on one’s resume. “Abbott’s Coalition ministry is shaping as a kind of Jesuit jamboree. Not only are he and Joyce old Ignatians, but Joe Hockey is a product of St Aloysius’ College, Christopher Pyne attended St Ignatius’ College, Adelaide, and Kevin Andrews lived at Newman while studying law and arts at Melbourne University. And not to be outdone, the leader of the opposition Labor party is a Xavierian.”
“Protestants have tampered with and patronized popery; they have made compromises and concessions which papists themselves are surprised to see and fail to understand. Men are closing their eyes to the real character of Romanism and the dangers to be apprehended from her supremacy.” Great Controversy, page 566