By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
“Eloquentia Perfecta may sound like one of the more benign spells cast by Hermione Granger in a Harry Potter novel. Yet to those well versed in Jesuit tradition, the phrase evokes an elegance and erudition in learning and communication, whether in public speaking or writing, that is directed not toward the mere perfection of these skills but toward service to the common good.
“Rev. Robert Grimes, S.J., then dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center in New York, says that there are three components of Eloquentia Perfecta. ‘First is…the right use of reason; the second one is to be able to express your thoughts into words; and the third one is to [communicate] gracefully, that is, do it in a way so that people are willing to listen to what you say.’ The Eloquentia concept emerges out of the rhetorical studies of the ancient Greeks, but it was codified in the Jesuit tradition in 1599 with the Ratio Studiorum, the official plan of studies for Jesuit teaching institutions.” (America: May 16, 2011)
Eloquentia Perfecta is an aspect of our mission as Jesuit educators that is just as vital today as it was in 1599. In fact, it may explain why this issue of Connections is so large: so many schools selected this month to contribute articles, that it didn’t feel right to turn any of them away!
Editing Connections every month always makes me acutely aware of the responsibilities of my own job. When I became Director of Communications at AJCU in 2013, I learned very quickly that anything I would produce on behalf of the Association would have to be accurate, proof-read and concise, or else I wouldn’t be very good at this role!
But beyond the grammatical responsibilities that come with being an editor comes something even greater: the need to communicate with purpose. This is why, over the past six years, Eloquentia Perfecta has become more than just a favorite “Jesuit catch phrase.” It’s something that motivates me to become more persuasive, more reasoned and more just in everything that I write or say. You’ll read more about Eloquentia Perfecta in this issue of Connections, but the explanation above (from a 2011 issue of America) is one that I find particularly insightful.
I should note that one of the articles in this issue came about in a rather surreptitious way. As I began to edit the first of (many!) articles that came in from our schools, I had a flashback to my English Composition and Rhetoric class at Fordham University in spring 2004. On a whim, I decided to Google my professor who taught that class and see where he was teaching today. Lo and behold, Dr. Andrew Tumminia is now at fellow Jesuit institution, Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL! I sent him an e-mail with an update on what I’ve been doing over the past 15 years and asked if he might like to contribute an article. I was delighted when he said that he would be happy to write for the issue, and even more pleased by the article itself, which examines Eloquentia Perfecta in the work of the French Jesuit, Michel de Certeau, S.J.
This was truly a fascinating issue to edit but more than that, it was energizing to see how seriously our schools take their mission to teach students to become just and purposeful communicators. It is something that makes our mode of education so distinctive and one that, I hope, continues to inspire all of us for the next four hundred years.