The feast of Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus

POST BY JHellings

Our Lady of the Way, Gesu, Rome


Mother Mary,

Be for me an example of surrender and engagement.

Create within me

a heart that is honest and pure,

a heart that offers a haven to others,

a heart that is generous and resolute, ever able to overcome difficulties,

always ready to begin again

a humble heart

that expects everything from Jesus

your Son and our Lord.         Amen


Today we celebrate the feast of Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus. Why? At all the key moments in the coming to life of the Society of Jesus, Mary was there: when Ignatius left his old life behind him, he made a vigil before the Black Madonna on the eve of the feast of the Annunciation in 1522; when he made his first vows, it was on the feast of the Assumption, 1534; and when he celebrated Mass for the first time, it was in the church of St Mary Major on Christmas Day, 1538. Seven months after the official approval of the Society by Pope Paul IV, Ignatius and his first five companions celebrated this new birth by making their vows together at our Lady’s altar in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls, on 22nd April 1541. Ignatius had been elected the superior general two weeks earlier and so it was he who presided at the Mass which those first Companions celebrated together. As Mary had helped bring Jesus to birth so she, too, helped bring to birth this community of brothers and priests who would be her Son’s Companions.

This beautiful, late medieval image of our Lady of the Way was in a small chapel where Ignatius often used to pray; and when the newly founded Society of Jesus was able to build her first church, the Gesù, they did so on the grounds of this earlier chapel. Ignatius preserved this image and it is now in the north chapel of the church of the Gesù.  It is a symbol not only of the Mother – the one who helps bring Jesus to life - but also of the Mother who accompanies her Son and His followers on their way, on our journey together, to the Father. Mary is there, journeying with us.

The prayer which accompanies this beautiful image is also one which alludes to Mary not only as our Mother but also as the one who accompanies us on our journey. Mary, Mother of a pilgrim people.  It has particular appeal to me as it goes back to the origin of the school where I was educated, to the beginning of the journey I began with the Society of Jesus. In 1794, three Jesuit priests, four scholastics, two lay members of staff and twelve students fled the besieged city of Liège and arrived at the dilapidated hall of Stonyhurst in the north west of England. They had survived exile, the effects of war and even the world-wide suppression of the Society of Jesus.  In many ways, their story reflects the story of many refugees today, forced to leave their homelands because of persecution and war. 

When the Jesuits and their students were in Bruges, the second of their temporary homes, they would gather on a Sunday evening for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and for Benediction. The God who walked with the people of Israel, who made his home among them, continued to be with His fugitive people. Mary, too, Mother of the Society, was there. At the end of this time of prayer, the Jesuits and the students would entrust themselves to the intercession of Our Lady, asking her, as St Ignatius suggests in the Spiritual Exercises, to place them close to her Son. How wonderful that we, too, on our journey to God, can gather together, asking Mary to keep us close to her Son, praying for the grace to be, like her, a haven to others, expecting, with humble hearts, everything from Jesus, her Son and our Lord.

‘May Mary continue to watch over the Society of Jesus so that every member may carry in his person the “image” of the Crucified Christ, in order to share His Resurrection.’ (Pope Benedict XVI, April 22nd, 2006)

Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus, pray for us.

Simon Bishop SJ