Eight years after its founding, the Society of Jesus undertook a new type of venture that would become a central part of its ministry.
The early Jesuits were involved in education in various ways. For instance, members of the Society taught theology at the university level, and the Society operated residences for Jesuits who were studying at universities around Europe.
But it wasn’t long before their educational mission encompassed non-Jesuits as well. A turning point came in 1546, in Gandía, Spain, where the rector of a Jesuit college arranged public displays of philosophical disputations. Local families were impressed; at their request, the faculty offered courses in the humanities to the Gandían youth.
Then, in October 1548, at the request of the citizens of Messina, Italy, the Jesuits formally inaugurated a school for the city’s young people. It was the first of what would become a multitude of schools operated by the Society of Jesus for lay students.