Students at Saint Joseph’s are all required to take three special courses that are signature to the university. They are Theology 154: Faith, Justice, and the Catholic Tradition; Philosophy 154: Moral Foundations; and History 154: Forging the Modern World. Even though all students take these courses, few know why they have these special number assignments. So why are these GEP signature courses all 154? The answer is that Pope Paul III approved Ignatius’s plan of organization for the Society of Jesus in 1540, and because these courses are apart of the SJU Jesuit education, they are called 154’s.
Let’s tackle these mysterious courses one by one. The first is Theology 154: Faith, Justice, and the Catholic Tradition. Let’s be honest, theology is not on the top of most people’s “Courses I Want To Take” list–it certainly wasn’t on mine. However, as someone who is currently taking the course, I have found it surprisingly enlightening. What I like about this class is that the professors aren’t trying to shove any beliefs down your throat, they are just teaching what Catholics believe and why. As a Catholic university, this is fitting. It doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, you will end up getting something out of this class. It is true that a lot of Saint Joe’s students are Catholic; however, this does not mean they have an advantage over non-Catholic students in the class. I attended Catholic school for thirteen years, and I learn new things every day in this class.
Next, let’s look at Philosophy 154: Moral Foundations. Like any class, the course material will vary based on which professor you take. Essentially, PHL 154 is all about morality: how we make moral decisions, how society measures on an ethical scale, and where these values came from. We learn about most of the major philosophers and how their ideas contribute to our present views on morality. A common misconception is that this course teaches ethical viewpoints to support the Catholic Church’s moral values. This is not the case. I took this course during my first semester at SJU, and my professor was Christopher Grodecki, S.J. (which stands for Society of Jesus).Even though he is a member of the religious clergy, he made it clear on the first day of class that he was not there to teach us why the Catholic Church is morally upright. His only goal was to teach us about the different moral standpoints that exist and how to use critical thinking to evaluate society in the past and present based on these moral values. This was an interesting and fulfilling class to take, especially as a young adult trying to figure the world out.
Finally, the last 154 is History 154: Forging the Modern World. Unlike the other courses, this one’s name gives absolutely no clues as to what it is about, so here it is. HIS 154 is a class on analyzing primary and secondary sources to understand how the the world we know today came into being through studying historical events and structures. Unlike most general history courses taught in the U.S. school system, it doesn’t focus only on Western history. We study everything from Asian empires, to West African rebellions, to the World Wars. The first topic taught is how to differentiate a primary source from a secondary source, which can be somewhat difficult when reading texts that date back to the year 1200. This is probably one of the more challenging 154’s, but if you are open to critical thinking and relating historic events to their impact on today’s world, it can be very interesting.
So there it is, a crash course in the SJU 154’s. These courses are apart of the New GEP (General Education Program) and truly contribute to each student’s learning experience at SJU. With an open mind and a little hard work, these classes can be a breeze.