Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, James Joyce, Ulysses

Ulysses CCD: Who was this Chuck Loyola fellow, anyway?

—Look at the sea. What does it care about offences? Chuck Loyola, Kinch, and come on down. The Sassenach wants his morning rashers.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.


In “Telemachus,” the first episode of Ulysses, Buck Mulligan calls Stephen Dedalus a Jesuit four times – a fearful Jesuit, a jejune Jesuit, who possesses a cursed Jesuit strain and dishes out gloomy Jesuit jibes. A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, an order of Catholic priests founded by St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier in the 1500’s. The current pope, Pope Francis I, is a Jesuit. Most people’s connection to the Jesuits is educational as they run a number of well-regarded universities, including Georgetown University and Boston College in the United States, and, during the years James Joyce attended, University College Dublin. In fact, for all but a few months, Joyce’s education was conducted entirely in Jesuit institutions, so clearly they were influential during the Artist’s formative years. However, what exactly does it mean to call your flatmate a jejune jesuit, or just a regular old jesuit for that matter?

If you are really keen to hear Joyce’s writerly interpretation of his/Stephen Dedalus’ schooling, I recommend reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as it is essential reading to understand Stephen’s state of mind on June the sixteenth. As a boy, Joyce attended Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school for boys in Co. Kildare, from the age of six and a half (or the age of “half past six” as an adorably precocious Baby Joyce informed the headmaster), then, following financial hardship, had a brief stint in a Christian Brothers School before studying for five years at the Jesuit-run Belvedere College in Dublin.

Following Belvedere, Joyce slouched through a degree at UCD before heading off to Paris. He was intensely devout as a young man and then intensely atheistic. When in school, his teachers saw him as a potential Jesuit priest himself, but his turn against religion lead them to shun him completely, even neglecting to acknowledge his death in 1941 despite his literary celebrity. They would soften by the late 20th century and now his portrait hangs in a place of honor in both Clongowes and Belvedere. Joyce, for his part, despite his ferocious rejection of the Church, told his friend Frank Budgen:

You allude to me as a Catholic. Now, for the sake of precision and to get the correct contour on me, you ought to allude to me as a Jesuit.

But still, what does it mean to be a Jesuit as opposed to Catholic? Or to be identified as a Jesuit by Buck Mulligan?

Jesuit with a Japanese Nobleman, c. 1600, artist unknown

The Jesuits are most directly associated with education and are seen as a free-thinking and intellectual order, known for their contributions to science. Referring to Stephen as a Jesuit certainly highlights his intellectual side, but that seems too complimentary for Mulligan. The term “jesuitic” can mean “cunning, crafty and deceitful,” which doesn’t seem to apply to someone so “fearful” and “jejune.” We have to dig deeper.

Joyce regarded the Jesuits as the “gentlemen of Catholic education.” There were none better to teach a gifted young man like himself. He credited the “influence of ad maiorem dei gloriam” for helping him persevere in his writing despite adversities both internal and external. The Latin is the Jesuits’ motto, meaning “for the greater glory of God.” Despite the fact that Joyce also called them a “heartless order,” the discipline imparted by his school days gave him the grit and resilience to write his novels. His Jesuit education also likely gave him skill in logical and empirical analysis, a love for Aristotle, and an exactness in debate and dialectic. As such, “jesuitical” can also have the implication of arguing sophisticatedly to the point of trickery. As an example, Hillary Clinton once accused Tim Russert of Meet the Press of being jesuitical while pressing her in an interview.

As a youth, Joyce was especially devout and studious, staying after Mass for additional prayer and taking lists of Latin vocabulary and history books along on family trips to the seaside. He even had his mother administer extra tests that he wrote himself. He took Aloysius as a Confirmation name, after Aloysius Gonzaga, a prominent Jesuit so preoccupied with purity that he refused to touch any woman, including his mother.

In Portrait, Joyce gives ample space to a complete sermon delivered by Fr. Arnall at Belvedere College detailing the horrors awaiting the damned in hell, a sermon Anthony Burgess calls “unjesuitical,”  since it is neither intellectual nor promotional of free thought. Fr. Arnall’s sermon is enough to make me squirm, though I haven’t practiced Catholicism in over a decade. It inspired Stephen to double down religiously, seeking to purify himself through self-mortification and fervent, focused piety. (In the clip linked at the beginning of this paragraph, you can watch Stephen slowly crap his pants as he listens to Fr. Arnall in a 1977 film version of the novel). Stephen’s fear of eternal damnation and his calculated attempt to avoid it, what Burgess describes as a “quantitative concept of salvation,” form the basis for his relationship with the Church. His naturally intense personality caused him to believe he could be a better Catholic simply by doing more Catholicism. He also had reason to believe he was unclean.

Spoiler alert: the reason is sex.

The discovery of one’s own sexuality is a momentous occasion in life, and, a prodigy in many ways, Joyce dove in head first. He spent enormous amounts of time, energy and cash on prostitutes during his Belvedere days, just as Stephen did in Portrait. He began to believe that his creative instincts grew out of his sinfulness. It’s likely Joyce seriously considered becoming a Jesuit priest himself, but chose a sin-fueled creative path instead. Indeed, this experience was transformed into an early, unpublished short story about “the renegade Catholic discovering his creative soul through sin, then striding forward to change the world,” as Burgess puts it. Joyce’s brother Stanislaus puts it more succinctly, “[James’] temperament, like Catholic morality, is predominantly sexual.” It’s no coincidence that his masterwork reaches its climax in a brothel.

Yes, pun intended. This is not a family blog.

An especially shiny St. Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens

A deep, abiding fear in hellfire doesn’t turn into a predilection for prostitutes without consequence. Joyce and Stephen both possess enough genius to embody the rhetorical and intellectual qualities represented by the Jesuits, but Stephen’s gloom comes from this internal conflict. Catholicism is not just a religion; it’s a culture that seeps into the marrow of your bones. Stephen may regard himself as a bohemian, but he is still frightened of God’s power, symbolized by his hydrophobia and panic at the sound of thunder.

As for Buck Mulligan, it’s likely that he also had a Jesuit education (his real-life counterpart Oliver St. John Gogarty did), since Jesuit schools were the best in Ireland at the time. Mulligan gripes that Stephen is angry with him “Because you have the cursed jesuit strain in you, only it’s injected the wrong way.” Stephen has the Jesuit intellect, but not their scientific outlook, unable to see his dead mother as just another cadaver like Mulligan does. He’s gloomy and fearful because he hasn’t totally shaken the yoke of God’s wrath. He’s jejune (naïve, simplistic, superficial) because he’s imbibed all the hellfire and sidestepped the academic worldliness. If he tosses out (chucks) his inner Loyola, only then can he enjoy his tea and rashers with the Buck and the Sassenach.

Further Reading:

(2004). James Joyce and the Jesuits: a sort of homecoming. The Word. Retrieved from

Bradley, B., SJ. (2004, Jun 14). ‘You ought to allude to me as a Jesuit,’ Joyce once remarked. The Irish Times. Retrieved from

Burgess, A. (1968). ReJoyce. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Cavanaugh, R. (2017, Jan 3). Why James Joyce said he was a Jesuit (but rebelled against the Catholic Church). America: The Jesuit Review. Retrieved from

Ellmann, R. (1959). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hederman, M.P. (1982). James Joyce, priest and poet. The Crane Bag, 6(1), 20-30. Retrieved from

Gilbert, S. (1955). James Joyce’s Ulysses: a study. New York: Vintage Books.

Malone, M., SJ. (2008, Jan 13). Jesuitical. America: The Jesuit Review. Retrieved from

O’Brien, E. (1999). James Joyce. New York: Lipper/Viking. Retrieved from

Stern, F. (1968). Pyrrhus, Fenians and Bloom. James Joyce Quarterly, 5(3), 211-228. Retrieved from


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