History of the Jesuit Community

Courtesy of Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, S.J.

In the beginning and continuing until not so long ago, the Jesuit Community and Marquette University were nearly identical. The rector (superior) of the Community and the president of the university were the same person, and other officials and the teachers were all or in large part Jesuits. The Jesuits lived together in the same building that housed the offices, classrooms, library, and laboratories of the university.

When Marquette University began, of course, the numbers--both of Jesuits and of students--were small. The stately building located at 10th and State (where the new Wisconsin correctional facility now stands) was dedicated on August 28, 1881, and the first class of 35 students registered on September 5. At that time the Jesuit Community on hand to run the "college" and the church next door comprised 3 priests, 3 scholastics (young Jesuits not yet ordained) who were teachers, and 3 lay brothers (who took care of the Community's needs).

The university and the Community, during the twenty-five years on State Street, grew steadily, and when the institution moved in 1907 to 12th and Wisconsin Avenue next to the Gesu Church, the Community had been substantially augmented. But the organization and structure remained essentially the same. The new Johnston Hall was a self-contained unity. It housed the offices of the university, the library, the classrooms and laboratories, and a chapel--and in its south wing, the Jesuit Community. The president is reported to have said, when the capacious building was completed, "Thank God, we will never have to build again."

The Jesuit Community then numbered 24 priests, 7 scholastics, and 6 lay brothers, and it had become more diverse, a "mixed community." It included Jesuits who administered the university and the Gesu Church, who taught classes in the university and in the "Academy" (which remained at 10th and State), and some who did outside work. Three were shown in the official catalog as "missionaries to the Polish people" in Milwaukee. One poor father was too ill to have a regular assignment.

Marquette University continued to grow. Between 1907 and 1911, it added schools of medicine (including dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing), law, engineering, business, journalism, and music, often by merging or affiliating with existing institutions in the city. These schools were expensive, and the university had no endowment. What enabled it to survive were occasional gifts from benefactors and, especially, the presence of the Jesuits, who worked without salary, accepting only the cost of their simply living arrangements, thus furnishing what came to be known as a "living endowment."

But even though the community also grew, the Jesuit teachers were concentrated in the humanities, especially theology and philosophy, with a scattering of priests in other disciplines. The professional schools relied on lay persons with the necessary training in law and medicine and business. The Jesuit presence in the schools that did not have a Jesuit dean was an official called the regent. Those Jesuit regents were a kind of liaison between the school and the president of the university; they had few duties besides maintaining Jesuit ideals among the faculty and students. But after 1960 the office of regent quietly disappeared.