Education after the cannonball

February 15, 2013 § Leave a comment


Saint Ignatius of Loyola, by Peter Paul Reubens (c. 1620)

I was a senior in high school when I was given a copy of The Fifth Week, the book about famous Jesuits written by Fr. William J. O’Malley, S.J. At the time I was 18, and I was spending my final days of high school indulging conventional concerns, trying hard not be really lazy. However, like hearing music circling in a nearby room, I detected the faintness of another voice. At first I ignored it, assuming it would dissolve into the current of daily life. But it persisted. Finally, I started to listen. Reading O’Malley’s book, I turned up the volume.

That year, I became acquainted with the story of St. Ignatius of Loyola, first through O’Malley’s book, then through Ignatius’s autobiography. It captivated. I was so enthralled by his conversion that I even read the book through a Phoenix Suns game — while sitting court side. I had caught fragments of his life during my first three years at my Jesuit high school, but was not mature enough to make Ignatius’s conversion part of my spiritual memory. Ignatius’s collision with the cannonball, the fortuity that set him onward to sainthood, only became riveting when I became mystified by my own self. It was then I finally started to turn to the questions of existence that, sooner or later, confront us all.

That year, my senior year, I entered the conversation: the conversation of great questions. I had quit golf at the end of my sophomore year, and I spent half my junior year in Washington D.C. When I returned to Phoenix, I didn’t feel at home. Friendships had atrophied, and I entered senior year without much attachment to any person, activity, or sport. My usual distractions were gone. I wasn’t enduring any life-altering crisis, but for the first time I had the unsettling feeling of not having a place. I was lost enough to be found. I was idle enough to pray. And I was just enough of a conflicted young man to be captured by the story of a brawling womanizing soldier–turned saint.

I am now 31, and I direct admissions and teach theology at a Jesuit high school: Xavier College Preparatory, in Palm Desert, CA. As I look back upon my twenties, I realize that my eight years of Jesuit education, and the Ignatian spirituality it imparted, were the unseen forces that kept me circling within the gravity of God. When I had a crisis of vocation in my late twenties and agonized for months about leaving the practice of law, it was Ignatius who joined me. It was Ignatius who brought me to the feet of Jesus when I was too cowardly, or too paralyzed by fear, to make the first move. It was Ignatius who modeled the spiritual heroism that I secretly long for.

My full spiritual biography is best reserved for another time, but I hope the above fills in some background for this site. I have long thought about ways to carry on a more regular, public conversation about Jesuit education and the role of Ignatian educators. I have written on these topics before for publications like America, Commonweal, First Things,, and my own less focused personal blog. More recently, after my Christmas vacation in Spain, where I went on a pilgrimage to Montserrat and Manresa (two of the most important locations in the life of Ignatius), I knew I had to write, and do, something more. The call was out.

This site is my response to that call. My goal is to explore education after the cannonball: to connect participants in Ignatian ministries, mainly those in education, and to provide a forum to sympathize with shared concerns. My themes are faith, culture, Ignatian pedagogy and spirituality, and a miscellany of other matters that intersect with Catholic schooling. I want to show how Ignatian education responds to the challenges and complexity of the modern world, how it can assist in bringing clarity to an age of distraction, and how it can awaken desires that lead to the true self and, ultimately, to Christ.

I’d love to read your comments or any suggestions for articles, story ideas, or links. If you’d like to email me about speaking on any topics covered here, write me at

Thanks for reading!

My previous essays touching on Ignatius or Ignatian education:

Help Their Unbelief (America Magazine)

Celebrating St. Ignatius of Loyola (First Things)

The Enduring Witness of St. Ignatius (Patheos)

Catholic Education Matters (Patheos)

Unraveling the Mystery of Catechesis (Patheos)

Teaching to the Tests of Faith (Patheos)

Jesuit Education and the Dubious Frontier (Patheos)


Additional essays of mine on faith, culture, and education:

With Me in Paradise (First Things)

Bad Samaritan (Commonweal)

The Gift and Grace of Doubt (First Things)

Easter Season and Mysterium Tremendum (First Things)

Stephen Colbert: Catholicism’s Best Pitch Man? (Washington Post)

Some Principle of Being Abides (Patheos)

Building Up from Ground Zero (Patheos)

Colbert’s Cloak and Dagger Catechesis (Patheos)

Sorrow Neither Sweet Nor Fitting (Patheos)

Through Failure to Freedom (Patheos)

The Problem with ‘Peace of Mind’ (Patheos)

The Rise of WebMD Catholicism (Patheos)

Gaga and Gaudium et Spes (Patheos)

A Toyota Built for American Excess (Patheos)

Criteria Catholicism and the Mercy of Twilight (Patheos)

Posted by Matt Emerson


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