SCU: Silicon Valley's first start-up
Fr. William J. Rewak
The success of Silicon Valley depends on a mindset that can imagine new technologies and new relationships and has a compulsion to make the impossible possible. It is poised, intellectually and psychologically, to define the future and to take the necessary risks to ensure that future. Such an attitude may at times be presumptuous, but it is also generous and open: it looks at the world with bright eyes, new eyes.
I imagine Ignatius Loyola as a forerunner of our Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
I imagine Ignatius Loyola as a forerunner of our Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. He espoused a spirituality that landed him in jail at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. He began studying Latin in his mid-thirties to prepare for a degree in theology, eventually started a religious order in the politically charged Church of the 16th century, and successfully argued that his Order should not follow the monastic model: his men would be free to go wherever the need was greatest. In 1548 he realized that for Jesuits to have a major salvific impact on what was largely an illiterate society, he had to found schools. It was a large risk because he had no money and a dearth of manpower.
But after prayer and discernment, he founded his first school in Messina, Sicily, and by the time he died in 1556, 35 more schools were opened, including the prestigious Gregorian University in Rome. By 1773, there were over 700 educational institutions established around the globe. At that point, of course, the Jesuit Order was suppressed, and all those institutions were either closed or turned over to civilian authorities. By 1815, when the Jesuits were re-instated, they again took up the challenge: schools began to spread throughout the world. And all because Ignatius took a large risk on a small school in Sicily.
Santa Clara University was risky right from the start. A small plot of mission property – and parts of it were argued over for years by different landowners – was handed to them by Bishop Joseph Alemany. A dilapidated church, a row of deteriorating buildings, and no money. But great hope. Two Jesuits, John Nobili and Michele Accolti, took control of the property on March 19, 1851, and despaired of its condition; but they started to build, and two months later opened the school.
Like Ignatius in the beginning, the Jesuits had a tremendous trust in God that it would work.
We have inherited that property. But more – we have inherited their sense of adventure, their risk-taking. Over and over, through the years, Santa Clara hit a crisis: to continue would mean stepping into an uncertain future. But it always took the gamble. Like Ignatius in the beginning, the Jesuits had a tremendous trust in God that it would work.
And we now have a university that, because of those risk-takers, because of those who knew that the future depended on their expertise, stands proud in the midst of an exciting environment – a valley that supports its work and enhances its reputation.
What lesson do Ignatius and Santa Clara give us? Do not be afraid of the future, grapple with it and mold it. Take the risk.