Paul F. Grendler received the George E. Ganss, S.J., Award in Jesuit Studies for his significant contributions to the field and delivered the keynote address at the fourth annual Feore Family Lecture Series.
The Ganss Award recognizes an individual’s’ significant scholarly contributions to the field of Jesuit studies. Ganss founded the Institute of Jesuit Sources in 1961 to make the sources of Jesuit thought more readily available to the scholarly world in English-speaking countries by publishing translations of important works written by or about Jesuits.
“I had no intention of becoming a historian and the idea of becoming a historian of Jesuit education was about as remote as flying to Mars, but I am very happy that I do both,” Grendler said. “I intend to keep on studying Jesuit schools and universities until I reach the last arch.”
Grendler has published 10 books and 150 articles. He received lifetime achievement awards from the Renaissance Society of America and the Society for Historical Studies—he has served as president of both organizations.
“We are partaking in an important, distinctive moment Jesuit educational history,” said Rev. Casey Beaumier, S.J., director of the Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies. “Grendler received [the award] in recognition of his significant contribution in helping all of us to deepen our understanding of the whole history of Jesuit education.”
Grendler’s speech, titled “A Historian’s Journey to Jesuit Education,” chronicled his academic career and transition to Jesuit studies.
Grendler majored in European History at Overland College, a predetermined path due to his long interest in history, he said. As his interest in history blossomed, he went on to attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. There, his interest shifted to the Renaissance and Reformation. He settled on a topic in 16th-century French intellectual history to write his master’s thesis, but instead of completing it in the summer of 1960, he played hooky and traveled to Europe. There he discovered Italy’s history and culture and was so taken by the country that he changed his focus of study to the Italian Renaissance.
Grendler secured a Fulbright Scholarship, enabling him to spend the 1962-1963 academic year in Italy researching his dissertation, where his interest shifted once more to elementary and secondary education in the Italian Renaissance.
Living in the outskirts of Florence in 1971, Grendler and his wife stumbled upon their son’s notebooks from the Italian elementary school he attended. The descriptions of the pedagogy fascinated him. The curriculum was more oral-based, and there was more dictation than in American and Canadian elementary education.
“It seemed to echo a distant past,” Grendler said. “I was and still am interested in intellectual history in an institutional and social context.”
A major finding of his book Schooling in Renaissance Italy (1989) was the curriculum revolution of the 15th century. The Jesuit curriculum practically guaranteed that students learned classical Latin well, according to Grendler.
“While most scholars saw the Jesuits as a counter-Reformation religious order, whose purpose was to teach Catholicism and combat Protestantism, I saw it as a continuation of the Renaissance curriculum that developed before the Protestant Reformation,” he said.
Jesuit schools between 1548-1773 were free to attend and publicly funded through tax revenue exchanges to teach classes on Latin grammar, humanities, and rhetoric. The schools were open to the public—more specifically to males who passed the entrance exam. Seventy-five percent of the student population was made up of people from the middle and lower classes, contrary to the myth that Jesuit schools were reserved for the noble. Learning Latin almost guaranteed that students would rise in society, according to Grendler.
“There is so much to be learned, there is an abundance of sources that have never been looked at or hardly examined,” he said. “I recommend that historians concentrate on what happened, not what the constitution said and not what generals in Rome wanted to happen.”
Featured Image Courtesy of the Italian Rotary Club