The Gregorian University in Rome, for centuries the global nerve centre of the Jesuits, is suffering from a serious shortage of qualified teachers.
Many Jesuits, the intellectual storm-troopers of the Catholic Church, fear that their undisputed role in the complex network of Catholic theology, philosophy, teaching and cultural leadership may be in jeopardy.
In the marble-flagged corridors of the Gregorian's spectacular 16th-century palazzo in the heart of the old city, there are rumours that the flagship of the Society of Jesus, with 3,500 students from 120 nations and about 300 academics, most of them Jesuits, might come under increasing influence from other orders, such as the Legionnaires of Christ, or of lay organisations such as Opus Dei.
Jesuits are pinning their hopes on Father Franco Imoda, the new rector of the Gregorian. Father Imoda is the first psychologist to hold a post traditionally assigned to theologists. He taught in the United States for a long time. His colleagues hope he will impart new impetus and introduce more modern and efficient methods.
Yet all agree that to remain a Jesuit university and the academic headquarters of the Society of Jesus, the Gregorian must find top-quality teachers among the world's 24,000 Jesuits rather than from other organisations, some of whose members are already teaching there.
Father Imoda said: "In the past we Jesuits were fortunate in having some real intellectual giants. Today, it is more difficult to get outstanding Jesuits to teach at the Gregorian. But our teachers are still extremely good by any standards, and some of the young ones are really excellent.
"We are suffering partly from a generation gap. It takes more than 20 years' study to train a Jesuit to what we consider university level; between ten and 13 years for school-teachers. Jesuits used to enter the order in their late teens, but for the past couple of decades they have started joining in their mid-twenties. This has resulted in a temporary lack of fully-trained Jesuits."
The university was founded in 1551 and was given its building by Gregory XIII in 1582. Since the Second Vatican Council, lay students have been admitted and are now about a third of the total. The Gregorian has ten main faculties in fields related to religion, as well as courses in information technology and mass communications.
Its library has 1.5 million volumes, including a large collection of works on Marxism. Among the Gregorian's past alumni are 16 popes.
Father Imoda believes the Gregorian has a key role to play in the future of the Jesuit order. "Ninety per cent of our alumni are involved in some kind of teaching. Some of those they teach will become Jesuits. The Jesuits are universally oriented, with universities all over the world, more than 20 in the United States alone. Here in Rome we are close to the Holy See.
"I am convinced that we can give new energy to the flywheel of teaching that is the tradition of our order. I also want to further develop the courses in communication, since this is essential to our mission."