The foundation of the Jesuit college
The city provided the Jesuits with a residential building for 20 priests (today this is the location of the government building), a school building (facing the government building) and a library.
The first three Jesuit priests were accommodated temporarily from 7 August 1574 in the Gasthof Schlüssel hotel on Franziskanerplatz.
You can find out more about this in the audio contribution or in the complete text "The foundation of the Jesuit college".
The history of public grammar schools and universities in Lucerne begins against a background of dramatic polarisation: in the 16th century, the Reformation and Catholic reform divided the Swiss Confederation socially, religiously and politically into two large blocks. The differences between these two blocks concerned religion and mentality – but they also affected cultural life and thus education. The cities of Zurich, Berne, Geneva and Lausanne founded secondary schools. In Basel, the historically Catholic university received a reformed profile. The Catholic side fell behind and vigorously sought to regain its position. A separate educational institution for sons from the Catholic areas of the Swiss Confederation was intended to remedy the situation. The first locations considered for such an institution were Rapperswil, Bremgarten, Freiburg, Locarno and Rorschach. However, in 1570, the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, entered the scene. He had already successfully sworn in ecclesiastical and secular institutions to a strictly Catholic line in Lombardy and Ticino. Now, he sought to also assert his influence north of the Alps. Thus, Cardinal Borromeo encouraged the people of Lucerne to cooperate with the Jesuit Order. As the intellectual spearhead of the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits had taken over teaching at the newly founded grammar schools and universities in many parts of Europe. Starting in the German-speaking areas, they later spread throughout the continent, establishing several hundred branches across Europe.
Under the leadership of the mayor, Ludwig Pfyffer, a highly decorated former mercenary leader, the Lucerne government took a project into its own hands. It procured considerable capital from private and church institutions and asked the Pope to send Jesuits to Lucerne. Indeed, the first three Fathers came to the city on 7th August 1574 where they provisionally settled in the then new ‘Gasthaus zum Schlüssel’. Here they began to teach in one single class. The definitive launching of the school almost failed: the Jesuits demanded significantly better conditions than the government had planned. Only when they issued an ultimatum and threatened to leave, was Lucerne persuaded to yield. On 10th May 1577, the new foundation was sealed. The government took over the maintenance of 20 teachers, including all their health costs, and provided the necessary facilities: a residential building, a school building, a church and a library. The generously proportioned city palace of the mercenary leader Lux Ritter, the richest man in the city of Lucerne at that time, served as a branch and thus as a building for the College. Today this palace is the centrepiece of the government offices. The school building was completed two years later. It still stands at 18 Bahnhofstrasse, which is the seat of the Department of Education and Culture. For church services, the city initially installed a house chapel inside Ritter’s palace. Later it built a new church, which was added as a wing on the west side of the College. The Jesuit Church that exists today is the third building.
The Jesuit College ran a grammar school that paved the way to a Higher Department which offered philosophy and theology. Instruction followed the regulations for study which had been uniformly fixed for all Jesuit colleges in Europe since 1599. This uniformity facilitated a high mobility among teachers. As a rule, superiors transferred teachers from one town to another every five years, with the result that they led a life as outsiders.
Coincidentally, exactly four hundred years later, the Bologna Reform was introduced as another European initiative to unify higher education across borders. This time though, the focus is on student mobility: students should be free to change the location where they study within Europe according to their interests. While in those days a unified Jesuit education was a matter of ideological resistance, the aim of this modern unification is to raise the academic level of universities and to increase Europe's competitiveness in the globalised world.