October 8, 2013 — Sophia University, Japan’s first Jesuit university, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Pope Francis appointed Italian Cardinal Raffaele Farina as his special representative to the university’s celebration, scheduled for November 1.
German Jesuit Father Joseph Dahlmann, who visited Japan in 1903, was a catalyst for the founding of Sophia University, a private research university located in Tokyo. Fr. Dahlmann would later become one of Sophia University’s three founding Jesuits.
While in Japan, Fr. Dahlmann heard the requests of Catholics who wanted the construction of a Catholic university to serve as a cultural base for the Catholic Church there. He reported this request to the offices of the pope, and two years later, in 1905, Fr. Dahlmann received a private audience with Pope Pius X. That same year, the pope appointed Bishop (later Cardinal) O'Connell of Portland, Maine, as a special ambassador of the Vatican to Japan.
Bishop O'Connell had an audience with Japanese Emperor Meiji, learned about the educational policy directions of the Educational Ministry in Japan and reported to the officials of the Holy See that the prospect of starting a Catholic university would be well-received. Finally, Pope Pius X issued a formal written command to the Society of Jesus to launch Japan’s first Catholic university.
Preparations for the actual establishment of the university began in 1908. Five years later, in 1913, the Jesuits officially opened the first Catholic university in Japan, with Jesuit Father Hermann Hoffmann as its first president. The new university included departments of philosophy, German literature and commerce.
Last month, students, faculty and leaders from Georgetown and Sophia Universities participated in a two-day conference on U.S.-Japan relations held in honor of the Japanese school’s anniversary. The relationship between the two schools dates back to the mid-1930s, when students from Sophia visited Georgetown for the first time. In 1987, the two schools established a formal exchange agreement that has since resulted in 90 Sophia students studying at Georgetown and 240 Georgetown students studying in Tokyo.
"Since its foundation in 1913, Sophia University has emphasized an international focus and has placed priorities on relations with universities from all over the world linked by a Catholic network," said Sophia University President Tadashi Takizawa, who was accompanied by his university’s chancellor, Jesuit Father Toshiaki Koso at the Georgetown conference. [Georgetown University, Vatican Radio, Sophia University]