ESTABLISHED IN 1551 BY ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, PONTIFICAL GREGORIAN UNIVERSITY TURNS 470 YEARS OLD THIS YEAR
The storied tradition of Jesuit education had to begin somewhere, and this year one of its earliest schools— in Rome—turns 470 years old. Established as the Collegio Romano by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1551, the school of grammar, humanity, and Christian doctrine was expanded later that century by Pope Gregory XIII, who would become the university’s namesake in 1873 by order of Pope Pius IX.
Today, the Pontifical Gregorian University, colloquially known as “the Greg,” has roughly 2,750 students from 120 countries. As an ecclesiastical institution, about 70 percent of its students are priests or seminarians. The remainder of the student body consists of laypeople and women religious.
“Working at the Gregorian is a fantastic opportunity for which I will always be grateful,” says Fr. James Grummer, SJ, superior of the university’s 70 Jesuits, who hail from 25 countries. “The people I live with, work with, and serve are fantastic people with deeply felt desires to serve the Church. It is a joy to get up every day and be part of what happens here.”
Among the school’s alumni are dozens of saints and blesseds, including St. Aloysius Gonzaga, SJ, and St. Maximilian Kolbe; numerous popes, including Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul I; and approximately 1,000 living bishops, including the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, who received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there between 1971 and 1975.
Cardinal Cupich recalls the first-class professors who led him through the rigors of Jesuit schooling and the profound experience he had living in Rome. “It introduced me to the wider world of the Church and society,” he says. Father Vincent Strand, SJ, also cherished his student years at the Greg despite some of the challenges of living in the Eternal City.
“Studying theology with students and professors from all over the world was rewarding, and doing so in a city as historically significant as Rome, near the tombs of the apostles and ancient martyrs, was inspiring and formative,” says Fr. Strand, who earned a Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 2016 and is now studying for a PhD at the University of Notre Dame. “The mission of the Greg is quintessentially Jesuit, combining education and intellectual depth with a global vision for the needs of the Church universal.”
Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, is an alumna, and Italian poet and librettist Andrea Salvadori, who served the Medici family in the 1600s, is an alumnus as well. At the school’s establishment, St. Ignatius envisioned a “university of the nations, for the defense and propagation of the faith, and for the training of wise and qualified leaders of the Church and of society.” The Greg is currently in the midst of integrating with the Pontifical Biblical Institute, founded in 1909 by Pope Pius X, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, founded in 1917 by Pope Benedict XV. The goal, as Fr. Grummer sees it, is to consolidate the institutions’ financial resources and personnel, promote collaboration, and facilitate interdisciplinary activity and networking.
“I am a great believer in the law of unintended consequences, which means that the future is never what we plan,” says Fr. Grummer, who is also the director of the Centro Ignaziano di Spiritualità, a constitutive part of the Greg’s Institute of Spirituality. “I think we hope there will be more interaction among our various faculties and students so that we can better serve local churches and the universal Church.”
As a student, Fr. Strand took every opportunity he could to learn about and experience the history of St. Ignatius and the early Jesuits in Rome. “Living in the very building that houses the rooms of St. Ignatius was an incomparable experience,” he says. “I am a better Jesuit today because of my years at the Greg.”
Michael Austin is a freelance writer based in Chicago, a national James Beard Award finalist for magazine feature writing, and a former nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune.