Ignatius of Loyola
In the early 1500s AD, the Protestants were the new thing in Europe. Protestants were getting more and more popular. A few students at the University of Paris in 1534, led by Ignatius of Loyola, wanted to make it cool to be a Catholic again. Ignatius was an older student, in his 40s – he had been a soldier first, and then a Franciscan monk. In 1540 these students formed the Society of Jesus, which most people call the Jesuits.
At first the Jesuits worked to help poor people in Italy under Charles V. Soon they began to specialize in three areas – they started many very good schools, they traveled all over the world to convert people to Christianity, and they tried to keep people from converting to Protestantism. In Italy and Spain, Jesuits were the men who organized the Inquisition, a system of torturing Jews, Muslims, and Protestants in order to make them obey Catholic rules.
Counter-Reformation and Catholic schools
As part of the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits trained priests and bishops so they would know how to read Latin and Greek, and understand maps and mathematics and astronomy. The Jesuits also taught many lawyers and men who worked for the government, like Cardinal Mazarin (they didn’t teach girls). But as Catholics, they could not study or teach the new scientific discoveries that the Pope disapproved of. In 1615 AD, Jesuits refused to teach that the earth went around the sun.
Jesuits also traveled to North America, South America, Africa, India, China, and Central Asia, trying to convert people to Christianity. Jesuit teachers in China and America brought back books like the works of Confucius and Aztec scrolls to Europe, and translated them.
Find out more about the history of the Jesuits – what happened in the 1700s and 1800s?