Promoting Ignatian Spirituality in a school… without Jesuits

Is it possible to preserve and even promote Ignatian spirituality in an educational institution linked to the Society of Jesus when there are no longer any Jesuits on the premises, neither on the teaching staff nor in the management? Yes, says Guy Dalcq, the Director General of Saint Barbara College in Ghent, Flanders. And he does!

The “college” has its roots in the 16th century, but it has only occupied the present quadrangle in the centre of Ghent since the 1830s... But why is Saint Barbara the patron saint of a Jesuit school? Because when the Jesuits returned to Ghent after the restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814, they were able to settle in this former cloister of Augustinian nuns in order to restart their educational activity in the city. Out of respect, they kept the name of the convent.

On the possibility and the ways of keeping the Ignatian tradition alive in an institution that has been run for many years by lay people, let us give Guy Dalcq the opportunity to speak.

“Keeping this tradition alive, for me, is a primary concern. I have been here since 1983, first as a teacher and then as director. I must admit that as long as there were Jesuits here, we didn’t worry too much about the Jesuit tradition because the religious were present and living it. But after their departure, we realised the importance of this tradition, its crucial role in safeguarding and promoting Jesuit spirituality even in the absence of the Jesuit fathers.


For three years, a committee of Jesuits and lay people worked to write an Ignatian pedagogical plan. I based it on a book by Fr François Charmot. He wrote it in 1943... and we succeeded in updating it. For Father Charmot, the basis of Ignatian pedagogy is the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. And this is what inspires me. We have developed a 10-step process of how to live this spirituality in the school and I can tell you that it is very well received by the teachers. Thanks to this project, Ignatian spirituality is penetrating drop by drop and making an impact.

When I interview prospective teachers, I do not ask them directly about their knowledge of Ignatian spirituality, but I ask them to comment on our Ignatian Education Project. I ask them to tell me what resonates in their hearts, what challenges them. I prove their sensitivity to current issues that are linked to Ignatian principles: diversity, the fight against racism, sustainable development.

As for the students, they have a compulsory social service internship to give them contact with the realities of people in need, in line with the priorities of the Society of Jesus. And for students in their final year, we offer a voluntary three-day Ignatian retreat. More than a third participate and I often have to do two sessions because there are too many registrations. The heart of the experience lies in the fundamental question I ask them: ‘In other schools you would be asked what you are going to do in life. My question is different; it is: who, what person would you like to become?’ A deep silence falls over the group and most go out into the woods to reflect before they respond. It is an exercise that I find very Ignatian.”

Soon some of the Secondary 1 and 2 students will move into one of the buildings of the Oude Abdij (Old Abbey) Spiritual Centre in Drongen. For Guy Dalcq, this will be another opportunity to get closer to Ignatian spirituality. The location, of course, but also the presence of a Jesuit community will give the students the opportunity to meet some Jesuits in person.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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