For more than 450 years, education has been the focus of work for Jesuits. Indeed, after his conversion, Ignatius spent seven years studying at the University of Paris. His own educational vision was deeply influenced by Renaissance humanism. By the time of his death, the Jesuits were directing 33 colleges and universities. Today there are 112 Jesuit institutions of higher education worldwide. Twenty-eight are located in the United States.
Since the earliest days of the Jesuit order, education in the humanities, arts, and sciences was also seen as a path to religious wisdom, which includes growth in both virtue and generosity. Following Ignatius, who wrote that "love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words," the Jesuit tradition insists that faith must be reflected in everyday life. God's gifts are seen as an invitation to place knowledge, talents, and skills at the service of others, especially the poor.
In more recent years, Jesuits have elaborated the intrinsic connection between the pursuit of faith and the promotion of justice, especially toward the poor, the powerless, and those who suffer unjust discrimination. The most recent worldwide gathering of Jesuits stated:
"The vision of justice which guides us is intimately linked with our faith. It is deeply rooted in the Scriptures, Church tradition, and our Ignatian heritage. It transcends notions of justice derived from ideology, philosophy, or particular political movements, which can never be an adequate expression of the justice of the Kingdom [of God] for which we are called to struggle."
Rooted in faith, this understanding of justice is concerned with the actual good of people in society.
All Jesuit institutions have sought ways in which they might appropriately focus on the promotion of a more just and humane world as a defining characteristic of their mission. Within a Jesuit university, this characteristic is realized primarily through an ongoing dialogue concerning faith, culture, and justice in an academic setting and through the lived commitments of the University's graduates that such a dialogue fosters and supports.
This University acknowledges that its constituency extends beyond the student population to include the world at large and that it has a responsibility to the wider community. While many colleges and universities incorporate values into their curricula, Santa Clara is distinctive in making explicit its intention to evoke from students "a commitment to fashioning a more humane and just world." It urges students to seek "to answer not only 'what is?' but 'what should be?'" Such questions are essentially religious, as they necessarily lead to a consideration of the transcendent depths of human existence and the ultimate destiny of humankind.