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What Is A Jesuit?


The Jesuits (The Society of Jesus) represent a Catholic order that founded Holy Cross.

They are known throughout the world as educators dedicated to “finding God in all things,” exploring wide-ranging cultures and academic fields.

There are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States.

Holy Cross is the only one that is exclusively devoted to undergraduates.

Jesuit education takes the whole person into account and fosters not only intellectual development, but also moral and spiritual growth.

Intellect and faith are seen as complementary, not contradictory.

The Jesuit tradition values the richness and variety of human experience and is therefore dedicated to helping all students discover the deeper meaning and purpose in their lives while also finding their individual places in the larger society.

With a strong commitment to service and social justice, Jesuits educate “men and women for others” who develop their gifts and achieve at the highest possible level.

True to Jesuit ideals, Holy Cross enables students to cultivate inquiring minds and ethical values for engaged, fulfilling lives.

The Society of Jesus has always been known for practicality and unflappability in the service of its motto: Ad Maiorem Dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God).

Equally well known is the Jesuits’ reputation as educators – giving rise to the adage: “Give me a child of seven, and I will show you the man.”

The Society of Jesus was founded by the Basque nobleman, soldier and future saint, Ignatius of Loyola, who turned to religion after a French cannonball mangled his leg in Pamplona in 1521. Despite attracting the interest of the inquisition, the Company of Jesus, as it was known at first, secured papal approval in 1540.

Francis I is the first Jesuit to be elected Pope

Francis I is the first Jesuit to be elected Pope

The term Jesuit – originally used pejoratively to describe someone who was too ready to use or appropriate the name of Jesus – was never employed by Ignatius of Loyola himself and was adopted only later. Nor were the Jesuits the initial agents of the Spanish Inquisition, which was run by the Dominicans when it was established in 1480.Central to the order’s philosophy are the spiritual exercises set down by Ignatius of Loyola, which offer a means for the individual to learn more about themselves and God through prayer and guidance from a director.

Such fortitude and focus was needed by the Jesuits, whose early missionary work took them through Protestant Europe and as far afield as the New World, Japan, Tibet and Goa. Although the 20,000-strong society is mainly comprised of priests, there are also 2,000 Jesuit brothers, and almost 4,000 scholastics – or men studying for the priesthood.

Members of the society undertake a variety of roles: some work as parish priests; others as teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists and astronomers.

They are organized into 91 geographical “provinces”, which are each overseen by a provincial superior, who answers to the head of the society, the superior general.

But despite their numbers and global presence – the society is the largest male order in the world, with members at work in more than a 100 countries around the world – Jesuits have had to wait almost five centuries to see one of their number elevated to the highest post in the Catholic Church.

Although they take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Jesuits have historically been viewed with suspicion in Rome and elsewhere, and seen as a group that is a little too practical, a little too independent, and a little too powerful for its own good.

In Elizabethan England, Jesuits were reviled as the embodiment of the Catholic threat-from-within, ruthlessly persecuted and even dragged into the gunpowder plot.

In the new world, their defence of the indigenous peoples they had converted to Catholicism put them at odds with the Spanish and Portuguese governments, who saw their behavior as a hindrance to their economic interests in the area.

By the mid to late 18th century, the order had become so feared and despised that it was suppressed in many parts of the world, only to be re-established by Pope Pius VII in 1814.

In the late 20th century some Latin American Jesuits echoed their predecessors by angering Rome through their embrace of liberation theology, in which Christ’s teachings are interpreted in relation to the politics and economics of poverty. Among those who rejected the movement, which was later fiercely condemned by the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, was an Argentine Jesuit priest named Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He is now Pope Francisc.