What is a Jesuit?

Three Jesuits from the past and present

A Jesuit is a man who has offered himself to a life of service to God and to the Catholic Church and is accepted into the religious order of the Church known as the Jesuits or Society of Jesus. As a Jesuit, he will be one of more than 16,000 priests and brothers around the world who are engaged in spreading the Gospel (evangelisation) and in ministries in education and social justice among the poor and marginalised (apostolic works). Most Jesuits are ordained priests after several years of study and rigorous preparation; others discern that a life of service as a Jesuit brother would be more suited to their personality.  A Jesuit commits himself for life by taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; he also takes a fourth vow in which he declares obedience to the Pope.

A Jesuit is in essence a missionary, meaning that he is sent (or ‘missioned’) by his superior to work in areas which are deemed to be in the greatest need. These may be where there are intellectual needs (by providing education in schools, colleges and universities), physical needs (among the disadvantaged or those living in poverty) or spiritual needs (through the provision of retreats and spiritual direction).

The Society of Jesus was founded by St Ignatius of Loyola, a former soldier who experienced conversion after he was wounded in battle.  Jesuits today continue to follow his plan of the order's organisation as approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 in the papal bull containing the Formula of the Institute. The opening lines of this founding document declare that the Society of Jesus was founded to “strive especially for the propagation and defence of the faith and progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine”. Its founding principles too – written by Ignatius himself – echoed his military background. He referred to the Companions as “soldiers of God”, called to serve “beneath the banner of the Cross”. Their aims have always been to serve the Church, “according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good”.  

Jesuit, vocation, mission