The Jesuit Legacy in India

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The Jesuit Legacy in India

The Jesuits arrived in India in 1542 A.D. to carry out Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Over the last 500 years, they have woven themselves into the very fabric of India with deep psychological, theological and sociological connotations. This article tells that story; highlights some noteworthy Jesuit influences on Modern India, particularly in the fields of education, medicine, social service and leadership training amongst the youth; and, draws leadership lessons from these Jesuit achievements. The Jesuits demonstrated servant leadership, transformational leadership, and transactional leadership qualities. Without the Jesuits, the article concludes, India would be a different country.

The Jesuit Legacy in India

Ad majorem Dei gloriam. For the greater glory of God. That’s the motto of a religious order of men called the Society of Jesus that has quietly influenced India, and provided understated leadership to the world’s largest democracy in many positive ways deserving of recognition. The influence of the Jesuits in India extends beyond just the spread of Christianity, weaving intricate psychological, theological and sociological patterns into the very fabric of modern Indian society. Professor George Menachery – appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as member of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great in early 2008, and editor of the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India and the Indian Church History Classics – writes in Volume III of the former publication: the “factor which has won the Society a lasting place in the minds of the people and in the history of the nation is the large number of spheres which it has penetrated and permeated,” and goes on to list religion, spirituality, politics, education, science, technology, meteorology, diplomacy, indology, culture, history, geography, language, literature, art, architecture, sports, medicine, healthcare, social reforms, leadership formation, tribal and aboriginal movements, and nation-building as some of the contributions of the Jesuits to modern India. Brief History

The organization was founded in 1534 by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556), and received papal authorization in 1540 under Pope Paul III. Amongst the original six members was St. Francis Xavier, who was an ardent missionary with the passion to take Christ’s message to the East. He arrived in India in 1542, almost fifteen centuries after St. Thomas the Apostle had brought Christianity to India. With the arrival of Xavier, began a saga of leadership by the Society of Jesus in India that continues to this day, almost 500 years later. Pre-British India

The expanding influence on the Jesuits on 17th century pre-British India has been well documented by historians, among them Ellison Banks Findly, who writes in Nur Jahan, Empress of Mughal India (Oxford University Press) that Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627) granted the Jesuits many privileges, and spent “every night for one year… in hearing disputation” amongst Christian and other theologians, and that his “most active interest in Christian doctrine was in the debates held at his court between the Jesuit fathers and the Muslim mullas.” In fact, the Jesuit Mission of the Great Moghul was started at the request of Emperor Akbar, with Father Rudolph Acquaviva, the future Martyr, as its first Superior. The Jesuit Mission in Madura in the south was also begun at the request of the Hindu viceroy (nayakka) established in Madura, and later supported by Zulfikar Ali Khan (1690-1703), the first Nawab of the Carnatic. The Madura Mission counted among its members the celebrated Father Robert de Nobili, as well as Saint John de Britto. British India

With the onset of British rule over India that effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey, the Jesuits found greater favor with the erstwhile powers. They began exerting increasing influence not only on the...
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