Friday, November 1, 2013

Sophia University To Celebrate 100th Anniversary

Sophia University in ancient times

Tomorrow (November 1, 2013) morning, at 10:00 AM, Sophia University is set to begin its long-awaited 100th anniversary celebrations with a Eucharist at St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, Tokyo. More than 1200 guests are expected to attend the Mass, including some non-Catholics. The RSVP invitations were sent several months ago, and only the guests who replied to them can attend, since the Church, one of the largest within Tokyo, can only accommodate around 900 persons. Foreign dignitaries, including delegates from Rome, are expected—though not the General and former Sophia University Professor Adolfo Nicolas! The Pope, another Jesuit, couldn’t attend either, but he will send a personal delegate. The Archbishop of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Hollerich, is already here as he has been a professor of Sophia and a resident Jesuit in Tokyo.  For the convenience of those unable to enter the Church, the whole Eucharistic Celebration will be televised at this URL:

 Sophia University today, with St. Ignatius Church in the foreground

The Eucharistic Celebration will be followed by a quick lunch at the Palace Hotel. Immediately after lunch, guests are expected to flood the Forum near Yurakucho, Tokyo, where another formal celebration is set to begin at 14:00. Again, admission only on invitation. Here even more guests are expected including several secular dignitaries, which, many say, will include their Imperial Majesties, the Emperor and the Empress. The climax of the festive day will, perhaps, be the celebrations at the Hotel New Otani, close to Sophia University, where the guests will gather for a sumptuous dinner and toast!

 In memory of Fr. Hoffman

The idea of Sophia University began in 1906, when Pope Pius X requested the Jesuits to serve the Japanese through higher education. Two years later, three Jesuits, from three different countries, reached Japan to explore the possibilities: a German, Fr. Joseph Dahlmann; a French, Fr. Henri Boucher, and a Briton, Fr. James Rockliff. Their exploration and fundraising resulted in the establishment of the Jochi Corporation in 1911. The Japanese word Jochi was taken from the Litany of the Virgin Mary (Sedes Sapientiae—Seat of Wisdom), and even today that is the word familiar to most Japanese. Sophia, the English equivalent, has also been used since the beginning, though some Japanese may still be unfamiliar with it. After acquiring the required property and crossing all the legal hurdles, the Jesuits opened the gates of Sophia University in 1913 with the departments of Philosophy, German literature, and Commerce, under Fr. Hoffmann as its first President. Two other Jesuits too contributed to Sophia in its infancy: Fr. Hermann Hoffmann and Fr. Yachita Tsuchihashi. You can imagine how small the university was then from the fact that there were only nine students who graduated in 1918! 

Fr. Koso, S.J. explaining Sophia's history to the Pope

Sophia University grew gradually and slowly in early stages, i.e., before the end of the two World Wars, given that it was ‘foreign,’ relatively new, and very small. After the Second World War, however, Sophia reorganized several Faculties and Departments and added a few, built numerous edifices such as dormitories and the impressive 9-storied library, and created the “International Division,” where courses were taught only in English, mostly for foreign students. Sophia came to establish itself as a respectable university, mainly excelling in foreign languages and International relations. Women, who had been denied admission earlier, were able to register for the first time as students in 1957. The reputation of Sophia women soon became so well-known that in the 1970s there were references to Sophia as “Women’s Todai” [i.e., Tokyo University for Women!] given that the Sophia women were highly fashionable, intelligent, and able to speak at least one foreign language. 

Fr. Koso, S.J., Chancellor of Sophia

Among the private universities, Sophia currently ranks as one of the top three in Japan. It is highly admired for the high standard of education it offers, and many of its students are widely known for their linguistic skills. Whether true or false, most people both in Japan and abroad believe that Sophia students speak English fluently.

  Sophia University Eagle Emblem

As regards the Faculty, there was a time, in the early 70s, when nearly 100 Jesuits from about 25 countries taught at Sophia! There was hardly any department then without a Jesuit! Unfortunately, though, the Jesuit number has substantially decreased, and currently there are only about 15 Jesuits who teach full time—most of them belonging to the Faculty of Theology. Despite the challenges, the university’s Chancellor is still a Jesuit, and the university prides itself as being a Jesuit University. Will Sophia continue to be a Jesuit University for the next 100 years?

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