History of the JSN

Learn the history of the JEA, JSEA, and JSN, which begins in the 1960s and now spans more than half a century.

History of the JEA, JSEA, and JSN


Jesuit education in North America has evolved steadily in the past 100 years.  The following chapters chronicle the growth of the network and the organizations that have overseen it in that time.



1930s - Beginnings

The Jesuit Educational Association (JEA) was established in 1936 as the umbrella organization for both Jesuit secondary and postsecondary education in the United States and lasted until 1970.  The secondary schools were governed through Jesuit communities and most faculty were Jesuits.  Leadership meetings were usually Province-based, though some elements of a common curriculum were monitored nationally.   By 1970, there were 47 Jesuit secondary schools, the first being Georgetown Preparatory established in 1789.  In the 1800s, 26 schools opened with another 20 opening between 1900 and 1970.

1960s - Discernment and Vision

During the 1960s the role of private secondary education in the United States was being debated in many quarters in light of the considerable social upheaval then taking place. Similarly, during the time of Vatican Council II and afterwards, many within the Society of Jesus began to question the effectiveness of its traditional apostolates, particularly parishes and schools. Some members of the Society advocated and opted for direct social service in the inner cities where poverty and racism seemed obvious manifestations of societal injustice. The Society’s commitment, moreover, to the mission of faith and justice left many in the institutional apostolates wondering about their role and future.

In 1964, a serious study was undertaken to determine just how effective Jesuit high schools had been in the Christian formation of its students. The findings of the research, known as “The Fichter Study,” gave impetus to the establishment of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA) as an entity in its own right (separate from a similar organization for Jesuit colleges and universities) that would provide services for Jesuit high schools in order to further the specifically Jesuit character of their educational efforts. The Preamble to the Constitutions of JSEA, drawn up in response to the context in which Jesuit educators found themselves, set forth a challenging vision and sent out a powerful call to action which ultimately would inspire those working in the secondary education apostolate to a dynamic sense of mission and purpose, deeply rooted in Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit tradition.

1970s - The Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA)

The Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA) was founded in 1970 upon the dissolution of the Jesuit Educational Association (JEA) in order to care for the particular needs of the Jesuit secondary school apostolate in the United States. At the same time the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) came into existence to serve the particular needs of Jesuit higher education.

The Preamble to the Constitutions of JSEA emphasizes that Jesuit schools must go “beyond academic excellence.”  The 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in 1975 reasserts the importance of Jesuit educational institutions in the service of faith and the promotion of justice. The 33rd General Congregation in 1984 stressed the importance of the educational apostolate and especially collaboration with the laity in the apostolate.  The Preamble and the General Congregations set the direction for JSEA.

In its early years, JSEA functioned with a President and a Board of Directors which represented the ten Jesuit provinces and the different functions within the schools (i.e., president, principal, teacher). In addition, the Association addressed strategic issues and developed programs and workshops through its Commissions (standing committees) which addressed religious education (CORE), staff development and curriculum improvement (CORD), strategic planning and development (COPAD), and the role of Jesuit governance (CAPE) in furthering the apostolate of Jesuit secondary education in the United States.

The Commissions of JSEA were composed of men and women from the schools with the exception of CAPE, whose membership consisted of the ten Jesuit provincial delegates for education. In 1976, CORD was restructured to include a full-time staff with offices in the Graduate School of Education of Fordham University at Lincoln Center in New York City. As a result of an educational project initiated by the Jesuit Provincials, who are the Members of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, CORD was given a mandate to provide training for potential presidents and principals of Jesuit high schools, to assist schools in developing curriculum consistent with the ideals of the JSEA Preamble and the principles of the Society’s 31st and 32nd General Congregations, and to conduct research as well as to offer consultation services as appropriate. All of the Commissions continued with minor modifications until JSEA reorganized its structures in 1995.

Since 1970 JSEA has sponsored national and regional workshops, conferences, seminars and symposia on various issues. In addition to books it has published over the years, JSEA has produced a series of monographs and documents which were compiled and published in 1994 in a single volume entitled Foundations. That compendium provides a comprehensive background for understanding the context in which the Association operated from its inception to 1994.

1990s - JSEA Self-Evaluation and New Areas of Focus

The International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education published The Characteristics of Jesuit Education in 1986 and followed in 1993 with Ignatian Pedagogy: A Practical Approach.  Both documents were instrumental in shaping JSEA’s programing.

Looking forward to observing its 25th Anniversary during the 1995-96 academic year, JSEA initiated a process of self-evaluation in 1993 that would examine JSEA structures, programs and services to member schools. The Board asked members of the Commission of Assistants to the Provincials for Education (CAPE) to engage the member schools of their provinces in the evaluation during the fall of 1993. In spring 1994, CAPE presented its findings to the JSEA Board after which the Board established task forces to examine the Board structure, the roles of the Commissions, staffing needs and future directions of the Association. Proposals and recommendations, adopted at the November 1994 meeting of the JSEA Board, were subsequently circulated to the membership for comment and decisions concerning JSEA’s future direction, staffing and organizational structure were formally approved along with revised By-Laws in May 1995.  1995 also saw the first cycle of the Seminars in Ignatian Leadership, the first national Colloquium for Jesuit high schools held at Loyola College Baltimore, and the 34th General Congregation which stressed cooperation with laity in mission and the characteristics of “our way of proceeding.”

As a result of the extensive evaluation process, the JSEA Board eliminated the Commission structure, mandated a central staff in Washington, DC, modified the representational nature of the Board, defined itself as a policy making body with all programming delegated to the staff, established as the overarching goal of the Association “to promote the Ignatian vision of education in interactive partnership with and among the member schools.”

Meanwhile, in December 1994, JSEA was fully incorporated in the District of Columbia as a not-for-profit corporation.

The Board agreed that the context in which the goal, focus and programs of JSEA would be carried out should always be one of consciously modeling collaboration, networking among people and institutions, integration of Ignatian spirituality, effective use of technological resources, and a faith-justice commitment that emphasizes the Church’s and the Society of Jesus’ option for youth and the poor. The Board gave to JSEA staff the responsibility to develop programming and services relating to the implementation of the Ignatian vision in Jesuit education for the following four areas: leadership formation and support, teacher formation and support, school planning and curriculum development, research in Ignatian education

In November 1998, the JSEA Board of Directors adopted a five-year plan with these four goal areas: resource development, leadership development, network development, and research development – all with the ultimate aim of helping member schools deepen their Ignatian culture.

The Jesuit Conference published What Makes A Jesuit High School Jesuit? Distinguishing Criteria for Verifying the Jesuit Nature of Contemporary High Schools in 2000 which Provincial Assistants began using for sponsorship reviews.  It was slightly revised in 2007 and included a description of the relationship between Jesuit schools and the Society of Jesus.  It was re-titled What Makes A Jesuit School Jesuit?

The JSEA was supported principally by assessment fees from its member schools and interest from a small investment portfolio. No direct fund raising has been done since 1983, when an effort was made to raise a substantial amount for “endowment” until 1995 when the Board mandated the hiring of a full time Development Director. As part of the JSEA evaluation process, the Suddes Group, a fund-raising and public-relations consultant firm which had worked with several Jesuit schools, conducted a Development Audit for the Association. Its results were presented to the JSEA Board in March 1994. Three of the Suddes Group’s principal findings found their way into the Board’s final decisions for the Association: (1) to increase public awareness of and support for JSEA’s mission and services; 2) to establish a Development Council; and (3) to hire a full time Development Director.

As a result of the Suddes Group’s recommendations, a JSEA Development Office was established in June 1995 with a full-time director who worked for over a year and a half to accomplish several goals: (1) establishment of a Development Council, (2) identification of potential donors, (3) development of an annual appeal, and (4) solicitation of support from foundations and corporations. In February 1997, the Development Council became a full-fledged committee of the Board of Directors and the functions of the Development Office were subsumed under the responsibilities of the President. In October 2001, the Board concluded that the Development Council had helped the President and the Board to look seriously at the question of how to increase sources of revenue for JSEA operations. Having acted on the Council’s recommendations and in light of the Board’s decision that the President spend less time in development, the Board decided to dissolve the Council.

JSEA Leadership

Seven Jesuits led JSEA as its President since 1970: Frs. Edwin J. McDermott, S.J., Vincent J. Duminuco, S.J., Charles P. Costello, S.J., Carl E. Meirose, S.J., Joseph F. O’Connell, S.J., Ralph E. Metts, S.J., and James Stoeger, S.J.  Each president naturally nurtured the Association within the historical context of his time in office and with his particular talents and interests. The JSEA Board of Directors, like other boards of not-for-profit organizations, underwent development over the years. It was frequently the initiator of programs more than policy, often in response to needs which it identified in Catholic and Jesuit education, but in later years functioned as a policy board, entrusting the execution of the policies and programs to JSEA staff.

2000s - Growing Collaboration with Provinces

In the early 2000s the JSEA Board, the Provincial Assistants for Secondary Education, and the Jesuit Conference Secretary for Education began asking “Who is planning and caring for the Apostolate of Jesuit education?” Given the declining number of Jesuits, lay leadership, sponsorship reviews and agreements, an increased focus on mission and identity, international connections and partnerships, as well as JSEA’s increased number of programs, conferences, seminars, symposia, and colloquia it seemed important for JSEA, the Provincial Assistants, and the Jesuit Conference Secretary to work together in planning for the future. Provinces were starting new Nativity Middle and Cristo Rey High Schools, some sponsored and some endorsed.

During this time, the Provincials began the “Assistancy Strategic Discernment Process – A Meditation on Our Response to the Call of Christ” which ultimately led to the creation of four new Provinces from the ten existing Provinces. And the Society of Jesus’ General Congregations 34 in 1995 and 35 in 2006 continued to shape the Society’s vision for the new century.

The “Think Tank on Jesuit Education” in the summer of 2000 in celebration of JSEA’s 30th anniversary resulted in “2020 Vision,” a workbook which draws its inspiration from the Ignatian “examen” in the Spiritual Exercises and offers a variety of approaches to planning for change in Jesuit schools.

Between 2005 and 2007, the JSEA Board and the Provincial Assistants convened a Joint Task Force to develop a rational and goals for working together. For the next three years, the JSEA Board and the Provincial Assistants met to discuss future directions and commit to a Pilot Program for a regional model of service to test the “what’s best done locally-regionally-nationally” concept.

In January 2009 the JSEA Board, the Provincial Assistants, and the President of the Jesuit Conference agreed that these were important considerations for the future direction of JSEA: JSEA might be restructured under the Jesuit Conference, JSEA and the Provincial Assistants would benefit by working together, a restructure assumes the care of both pre-secondary and secondary education, and a national connectivity is desired even if regional centers emerge.

The Provincials approved the direction of the JSEA Board and Provincial Assistants planning at the Colloquium in 2010 at Santa Clara University. For the next few years, the JSEA Board and the Provincial Assistants continued to meet to forge a way to a restructuring of JSEA. In June 2014 the Jesuit Conference and the JSEA Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding that “a new network of Jesuit schools will be designed and implemented” with these characteristics: the primary cura apostolica and cura personalis for the schools will come from the Province office of secondary and pre-secondary education and a network central office will serve to maintain a strong presence and unified voice in research and development, training for new programs, quality and consistency coordination, international cooperation, and coordination of network meetings.

During this time, the Provincial Assistants and leadership from some of the JSEA schools worked with Lorraine Ozar, the Andrew M. Greeley Endowed Chair in Catholic Education, School of Education, Loyola University Chicago, to create “Our Way of Proceeding: Standards and Benchmarks for Jesuit Schools in the 21st Century” which was completed and published in 2015. The Provinces use the Standards and Benchmarks for Sponsorship Reviews.

In the fall of 2014, the new President of the Jesuit Conference met with the JSEA Board and the Provincial Assistants to outline the process for establishing the new network and finding the network’s first executive director. In April 2015 the JSEA Board met with the President of the Jesuit Conference and formally voted to create the Jesuit Schools Network from JSEA and to appoint Fr. Bill Muller, S.J., the executive director.

2010s - The Jesuit Schools Network (JSN)

As the new Network was launched, a video was sent to the schools.  The first year was spent realigning the responsibilities of the executive director and the JSN Conference office directors and staff while continuing the Seminars in Ignatian Leadership and the Cohort Gatherings.  The every-three-year Colloquium for Jesuit schools was held at Xavier University Cincinnati at the end of the first year of the Jesuit Schools Network, June 2016.

The 36th General Congregation in the fall of 2016 reaffirmed the commitment of Jesuits and Jesuit work to reconciliation with God, with Others, and with Creation.  Fr. General Sosa initiated an Apostolic Discernment of the whole Society of Jesus, inviting Jesuits and Jesuit works to participate.  In February 2019 the Society of Jesus set its Universal Apostolic Preferences for the next ten years: showing the way to God, walking with those on the margins, accompanying youth, and caring for our common home.  These preferences are to inform every Jesuit work.

Meanwhile the new JSN was forging a strategic plan, setting goals for the executive director, clearly defining the “portfolios” of the directors, and designing a communications format.  The Strategic Plan was approved in the fall of 2017.  A brochure outlining the Plan can be found at on the Research Landing Page.  Also in the fall of 2017, the first International Gathering of the Delegates (what we refer to as Provincial Assistants) for Jesuit Schools was held in Rio de Janeiro.  The Action Statements from JESEDU-Rio2017 can be found at www.educatemagis.org under Global Gatherings.

2018-2019 saw a greater emphasis on research development and global awareness and a redesign of the Seminars in Ignatian Leadership.  Two digital “newsletters” became a regular feature of the JSN communications format – Quick Clicks which shares news from the schools and Hemispheres which promotes the global nature of Jesuit schools and includes resources for schools.

The every-three-year Colloquium for Jesuit Schools was held at Loyola University Chicago in June 2019.

In November 2019 the International Commission of the Apostolate of Jesuit Education published A Living Tradition in the 21st Century – An Ongoing Exercise of Discernment.  Also in 2019, a Global Task Force on Global Citizenship was convened by the Secretariat of Education to define Global Citizenship and provide recourses for schools to enhance their global awareness.