Rev. Cardenal discusses Jesuit education

By: Matt Ahlgren ~Guest Writer~

Rev. Fernando Cardenal, S.J., is an internationally recognized authority on Jesuit education. He served as the Education Minister of Nicaragua from 1984-1990.

During his tenure as director of the literacy campaign in 1980, the literacy rate in Nicaragua increased from about 50 percent to about 85 percent. Cardenal spoke to Xavier students at 7 p.m. on Sept. 23 in Kennedy Auditorium.

Guest Writer Matt Ahlgren conducted a follow-up interview, interpreted by Professor Irene Hodgson. The full interview transcript can be found at

XU: What do you think are some important ways to ensure that people at universities, especially at Jesuit universities like Xavier, have exposure to the poor and the needs of the poor?

Cardenal, S.J.: That depends on the Jesuits that are working in that university and how they present the message of Jesus.

This is fundamental. Jesuits shouldn’t just be giving a business administration class, economics, engineering — that’s fine, because you’re helping the students, but it’s more important what kind of religious orientation is presented to the students. It’s pastoral work, we call it.

The spiritual orientation presented to the students is the path and it’s presented by the Jesuits and their collaborators, lay people who are also carrying forward the message of Jesus.
The important thing is that Jesus’ message be brought forward in the university, by the Jesuits and by the laity, but the center has to always be the person of Jesus.

XU: How do you think the interaction should take place between meeting the needs and interests of young people and meeting the goals of the Jesuits in instilling their philosophy?
Cardenal, S.J.: I think today more than ever it’s important to count on the collaboration of the laity. In all the religious congregations in the world, male and female ones, the number of vocations has gone down, and (there is) a progressive graying of the members of the congregation.

So the General Congregations of the Society of Jesus have said that it’s really important to do the formation of the laity in the spirit of Ignatius of Loyola.

They have to be the important collaborators with the Society of Jesus. There’s a complete document in the last General Congregation about the collaboration with the lay people.
There’s an important change: before it was said that Jesuits had to look for the support of the laity for our work. Now it’s changed.

Now it says we have to support the work of the laity. That’s an important change, isn’t it? It gives a great deal more importance to their work.

Cardenal pic
Rev. Cardenal, S.J. expresses his views of the Jesuit tradition.

XU: Why do you think that the Contras thought that education was such a threat?
Cardenal, S.J.: The Contras wanted to destroy the revolution. They saw that this crusade was going to be a very beautiful project. 60,000 young people in the mountains — that’s an extraordinary happening.

And they saw that it was going to be an international triumph for the revolution. So they didn’t want the revolution to have this success, so for that reason they wanted to stop it.
Their hatred led them to say, “we can’t let them have this success.” And that was their reason for their profound opposition to the literacy campaign, the great success of the revolution.
And they weren’t wrong in thinking that this campaign was very important. I’ve been asked about the literacy campaign in all parts of the world.

I was in a conference on popular education in Cairo, Egypt, and they said “What can you tell us about the literacy campaign?”

I was invited by different ministries of education in Latin America to talk to them about what this campaign was like.

It had a great international repercussion. UNESCO gave me in Paris the prize for the literacy campaign.

They also invited the Minister of Education from Nicaragua — both of us went, and they gave us the literacy prize.

So it was a great success for the revolution. I think it was the most important thing that the revolution did.