Ulysses contains many references to the "jesuits," a.k.a. "the Society of Jesus" or "S.J.," a large order of Catholic priests and brothers founded in the sixteenth century by Ignatius "Loyola" (1491-1566), a Spanish knight from a noble Basque family. Stephen Dedalus, like Joyce, has received a good Jesuit education during most of his pre-university years, and an official in both of the schools he attended, "John Conmee S.J.," appears under his own name in both A Portrait and Ulysses.
The S.J. enjoys a reputation of being the most intellectually rigorous of the Catholic holy orders, a reputation based on its members’ work in education and intellectual research. The Jesuits operate seminaries, universities, secondary schools, and elementary schools in many countries around the world, including Ireland. They taught James Joyce at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare from 1888 to 1891 (ages 6-9), and at Belvedere College in Dublin from 1893 to 1898 (ages 11-16). Joyce attended Belvedere on scholarship; the family fortunes had declined and this preparatory school, like many Jesuit institutions, underwrites the education of those who cannot afford to pay.
A Portrait of the Artist represents Joyce’s experiences at both schools, including his stellar academic success at Belvedere where he won many honors and prizes. When the Jesuits invite Stephen Dedalus to consider that he may have a calling to become one of them, he declines, and walks away not only from the priesthood but also from the Catholic Church. In Telemachus, however, Mulligan suggests that Stephen has much further to go in ridding his mind of his religious instruction. He calls Stephen a "fearful jesuit," suggesting that he has internalized the rigorous intellectual severity of the order, and also perhaps that in his sternly meditative way he is afraid of life. Later in the chapter, fending off Stephen's anger at his making light of his mother's death, Mulligan explains Stephen's refusal to pray at his mother's bedside by saying, "you have the cursed jesuit strain in you, only it's injected the wrong way." Even in his rejection of Christianity, Mulligan seems to be saying, Stephen acts with an uncompromising (and unworldly) insistence on intellectual consistency that he learned from the S.J. "Look at the sea. What does it care about offences? Chuck Loyola, Kinch, and come on down." In Oxen of the Sun, Mulligan is still lambasting Stephen as a "Jesified, orchidised, polycimical jesuit!"
Stephen probably would not reject the association with Loyola. In Scylla and Charybdis, as he tries to set the scene in Shakespeare's London, he thinks of Loyola's influential instructions for religious meditation, which begin with a vividly sensory "composition of place" and then analyze the images for significance: "Composition of place. Ignatius Loyola, make haste to help me!" Later in the chapter, he thinks of the role that another Jesuit played in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Parliament and King in 1606: "Warwickshire jesuits are tried and we have a porter's theory of equivocation." Gifford observes of "the Warwickshire Jesuit Henry Garnet, provincial of the then-underground order in England," that he "distinguished himself at trial by defending the 'doctrine of equivocation,' that is, maintaining that his attempt to practice deliberate deception on his accusers (i.e., to lie under oath) was perfectly ethical if done 'for the greater Glory of God' (Jesuit motto)." Shakespeare responded to this ingenious Jesuit reasoning by having the Porter in Macbeth joke about an "equivocator" trying unsuccessfully to reason his way into heaven.
Father John Conmee, the first character to step onto the stage in Wandering Rocks, was the Rector to whom Stephen appealed an unjust punishment in A Portrait, and it was he who arranged the scholarship for Stephen (and Joyce) to attend Belvedere, where he became Prefect of Studies in 1893. In the first paragraph of the chapter he is strategizing about how to do something similar for Patsy Dignam, the orphaned son of Paddy Dignam: get him a place in the O'Brien Institute for Destitute Children in Fairview, run by the Christian Brothers.
Father Conmee is also mentioned in Lotus Eaters. As Bloom steps into All Hallows church, he sees "Same notice on the door. Sermon by the very reverend John Conmee S.J. on saint Peter Claver and the African Mission. Save China's millions." Peter Claver was a 17th century Spanish Jesuit missionary who worked for nearly half a century in Cartagena, Colombia, ministering to the black slaves that the Spaniards were bringing to the New World. Gifford notes that "The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1907-14) lists extensive Jesuit missionary activity in Africa during the latter half of the nineteenth century."
Thoughts about the Jesuit missions run through Conmee's mind in Wandering Rocks when he catches sight of the Negro impersonator Eugene Stratton: "Father Conmee thought of the souls of black and brown and yellow men and of his sermon on saint Peter Claver S.J. and the African mission and of the propagation of the faith and of the millions of black and brown and yellow souls that had not received the baptism of water when their last hour came like a thief in the night." Once again, Jesuit reasoning comes into play: " That book by the Belgian jesuit, Le Nombre des Élus, seemed to Father Conmee a reasonable plea. Those were millions of human souls created by God in His Own likeness to whom the faith had not (D.V.) been brought. But they were God's souls, created by God." Father Auguste Castelain's Le Rigorisme, le nombre des élus et la doctrine du salut (Brussels, 1899) opposes "Rigorism", the orthodox doctrine that only baptized Catholics could achieve salvation (salut), arguing that the number of those chosen by God (le nombre des élus) will in fact be far higher than the numbers of damned souls.
The fact that Conmee approves of this liberal theory of salvation tempers the sarcastic light cast on his patronizing attitude toward all non-Catholics: "It seemed to Father Conmee a pity that they should all be lost, a waste, if one might say." The same could be said more generally of the portrait that Joyce created in Wandering Rocks. For all of its snide irreverence, Joyce did include many details bearing out his view that Conmee was, as he remarked to Herbert Gorman, "a very decent sort of chap."