On Oct. 14, 1840, 13-year-old Joseph Musick stood in line to enroll at St. Xavier College in Cincinnati. The College had been in business for nine years, but Musick was the first to register since its renovation and reopening by the Jesuits who had taken it over from the fledgling Cincinnati Archdiocese.
Though young, Musick was a typical student. With a proper grammar school education, he was prepared for the St. Xavier blend of three years of high school and three years of college that would inculcate in him enough French, Latin, Greek, English, poetry, philosophy and algebra to be considered an educated citizen.
Though some of the courses required of the 19th century students seem antiquated today—such as metaphysics and moral philosophy—they were rooted in the Jesuit educational tradition that’s remained at the heart of the core curriculum of classical instruction since the University’s founding in 1831.
As it celebrates 175 years of Jesuit education this year, the University continues to reflect the mission of the early Jesuits who published in 1599 the Ratio Studiorum, or plan of studies, that drives every Jesuit educational curriculum.
“It was eloquentia perfecta—the ability to read, speak and write in the most perfect way,” says Thomas Kennealy, S.J., associate dean of the colleges of Social Sciences and Arts and Sciences. “The essence of the core curriculum still has it. We’re teaching people how to speak, read, write and think clearly, analytically and critically. That’s the goal of liberal education and of Jesuit education.”
Joseph, from Missouri, studied for two years at St. Xavier, but while in St. Louis in the summer of 1842, was injured in a shooting accident. He returned to Xavier in the fall of 1843.
A typical day for Joseph and his fellow students, who ranged in age from 8 to 21, began early and was very restrictive: At 5:00 a.m., they would rise, study, say prayers, exercise, attend Mass and eat breakfast before going to English class at 8:00 a.m. Then came Latin, Greek and writing classes before the midday meal. After recreation and study, they attended either French or metaphysics, followed by arithmetic, algebra or geo-metry. They would exercise again until 5:00 p.m., study, take two more classes in Spanish, chemistry or natural philosophy and then have supper at 7:30 p.m. The evenings included more recreation, then night prayers and finally lights out around 8:30 p.m.
During recreation in the gymnasium, the students spoke French and English, a practice that disappeared by 1850. They wore black or blue frock coats and pants to distinguish them as St. Xavier students. Classes were Monday through Saturday with none on Thursday and Sunday—a schedule kept until 1917 when Saturday became the day off instead of Thursday.
This program, though modified through the years, remained the basic plan of instruction for St. Xavier students into the 1900s. Those who wanted to go into business took a four-year commercial course of business classes but were not part of the six-year classical high school and college program, which expanded to seven years in 1869—the same year stoves were added to the classrooms. “When you look at the curriculum in the 1840s and 1850s and see the courses for Latin, Greek and others listed, that could be seen as the core of studies back then,” says Roger Fortin, the University’s academic vice president and provost and author of an upcoming history of the University.
“Our courses in philosophy, history, English, theology and sciences testify that this University believes as the College did in the 1840s, that for any student majoring in any field, they’re essential for a more meaningful life. The University has never lost its commitment to a liberal arts education.”
Today’s core curriculum resembles the core from 1840—and the Ratio Studiorum upon which it’s based—in many ways. Though the course of studies expanded and changed through the late 1900s, it remains a demanding and thorough curriculum that students must complete regardless of their major. And while students have many choices to satisfy the core, those accepted to the Honors Bachelor of Arts program adhere to a stricter curriculum emphasizing the classical disciplines of the original Jesuit core. Students in the program, adopted in 1948, take additional philosophy courses plus non-core courses in Latin, Greek and the Humanities.
“The honors program, when founded in the 1940s, was thought to be the reincarnation of true Jesuit education,” Kennealy says. It’s a program even Joseph Musick would recognize.