Viewpoint: What It Means to Have a Jesuit Pope

A Jesuit's life often takes him to the margins. But often someone from the margins is just what the center needs

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St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits

A portrait of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, by Giuseppe Franchi

When I entered the Jesuit order 25 years ago, several friends — including the Catholic ones — scratched their heads. “You’re entering the what?” was the most common response.

When I slowly repeated the name of the Catholic religious order that I had decided to join, only a few registered a flicker of recognition. Tell your average Joe (or Joan) that you’re a Jesuit, that is a member of the group formally known as the Society of Jesus, and they’ll often ask “But aren’t you a Catholic?” Among Catholics, Jesuits may be best known for founding universities like Georgetown, Boston College and Fordham, and all those schools named Loyola. (We tend to have great basketball teams as well.)

Despite our high-profile schools, the general confusion about Jesuits persists. My all-time favorite reply came from a reporter who once asked, “Were your parents Jesuits?” Um, no.

(MORE: Pope of the Americas)

So what does it mean that we now have Francis, a Jesuit Pope? And, to answer the question I’ve been asked for over two decades, what’s a Jesuit anyway?

In short, a Jesuit is a member of the largest Catholic religious order for men in the world. (Other religious orders would include familiar groups like the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, Trappists and Salesians.)  That means that, like other religious orders (there are orders for women too, of course), we take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and live in community together. Unlike diocesan priests, however, our work isn’t focused as much on parish life. A diocesan priest (or parish priest in common parlance) enters a local seminary in order to prepare for his work in a particular diocese, in a series of parishes — celebrating Masses; presiding at baptisms, wedding and funerals; perhaps running a parish school; and entering into the lives of his parishioners.

Religious-order priests have a somewhat different portfolio. For instance, besides our better-known work in education (in middle schools, high schools and colleges), Jesuits work as retreat directors, hospital chaplains and prison chaplains, and in positions as varied as geologists, musicians, astronomers, social activists, physicians and writers, among many others. And just to confuse matters even more, sometimes the local bishop asks us to take over a parish — so yes, we end up working as parish priests. But my work at a Catholic magazine, while centered on prayer and the Mass, is quite different from that of the daily life of a parish priest — not better or worse, just different.

(MORE: Viewpoint: New Shepherd, Same Wandering Flock)

All of this flows from the original intent of the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier turned mystic, in 1540, which was not — as is usually thought — to be the vanguard of the Counter-Reformation, or even to found schools with great basketball teams — but something simpler. We were to “help souls.” And there are as many ways to do that as there are Jesuits. So our lives often take us to the margins, to places that other priests may not be sent to.

This explains the improbability of the election of a Jesuit as Pope. “No way,” I said to a friend last week who asked about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s chances of becoming the successor of St. Peter. We’re just seen as too “different” from the men in the College of Cardinals. Last night that same friend texted me a message: “Hey! What happened? I thought you said a Jesuit couldn’t be pope! Does that mean you have a shot?” I admitted my lack of imagination when answering the first question but still gave a decided “no” on the second.

Before his ordination as bishop, Bergoglio wasn’t simply a Jesuit who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, he was also a Jesuit leader. After his priestly ordination, he served as the Jesuit novice director in Argentina, a critical position often referred to by Jesuits as “the most important job” in the order. Why? Because that person is responsible for the spiritual training of the newest Jesuits, the novices. Typically, the person chosen is renowned for both their holiness and judgment.

(MORE: Habemus Papam: Francis, the Western Hemisphere’s First Pontiff)

Later, Bergoglio was selected by the Jesuit superior general in Rome (our head guy) to serve as the Jesuit provincial, that is, the regional superior of all the Jesuits in the area. This meant not only having responsibility for assigning men to various ministries, but also caring for the men as individuals. St. Ignatius wanted the novice master and provincial to be men who could, above all, love their brother Jesuits and care for them, from their youth to old age. The provincial must deal with the 20-year-old Jesuit who is having doubts about taking vows to the 90-year-old priest dying of a painful illness in the Jesuit infirmary after a long life of service. Pope Francis has had some excellent experience in management that is both practical and spiritual.

The joy among my Jesuit brothers was palpable. Hours after the papal election, the Jesuit superior wrote to Jesuits worldwide to promise prayers for “our brother.” But it’s the improbability of his election that struck me, and most Jesuits, yesterday. “I couldn’t believe it!” said more than a few members of my community. Because of our “otherness,” the election of a Jesuit was scoffed at. Clearly the Cardinals were looking for something and someone different, and so his very otherness may have been appealing. Particularly in light of the Vatileak scandals, the Cardinals may have been searching for someone who could take a fresh look at things and move the bureaucracy in a new direction. On the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, as he addressed the crowd, Pope Francis joked about his Latin American origins. It seemed, he said, that the Cardinals had to go to the “ends of the earth” to find a Pope. But often someone from the margins is just what the center needs.


When I was a child, I wanted to become a Jesuit, because I learned from my mother that Ateneo de Manila University, a very good school in the Philippines is run by the Jesuits. When I was in high school, I learned that Jesuits are good writers for we studied a literary work of a certain Jesuit (I can't remember the name). At that time, I wanted to improve my writing that is why becoming a Jesuit remained in my mind. Anyhow, I also learned that Ateneo produced several celebrated Jesuit writers such as Horacio dela Costa, S.J., Miguel Bernad, S.J., John J. Carroll S.J. etc.

What amazes me about the Jesuits is that they are priests but some of them have their own profession. Not only they are lawyers, scientists, economists, etc. but they excel in their field. A very good example is Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. the only priest that I knew of who is considered a constitutional expert in the Philippines and holds the distinction of being the amicus curiae of the Supreme Court. Another example is the immediate past president of Ateneo de Manila University, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J. who was proclaimed a national scientist by our country's president.

Just recently, I read two management books. The first one was entitled "Innovation and Entrepreneurship" by Peter Drucker and the second one was "The McKinsey Way." In the first book, Peter Drucker cited the Jesuits as an example for a certain innovation in management practice. In the second book, the Society of Jesus was compared to McKinsey, a management consulting firm known to employ only the world's brightest people. Looking at it, there is no other order or society within the Catholic church being accorded as such. That's aside from the astuteness and charisma of Pope Francis.        

Despite of all their achievements, Jesuit priests remain humble and based on my observation, they live a simple lifestyle. When I was having my MBA at the Asian Institute of Management (a business school co-founded by Ateneo), I used to attend Sunday mass officiated by Jesuit priests from Ateneo. There was this very remarkable Jesuit priest Fr. Luis David, S.J., whose homilies are so deep that ordinary Catholics can hardly understand. I also like the homilies of Fr. Mario Francisco, S.J., the former president of Loyola School of Theology. A retired Jesuit bishop, the Most Rev. Federico O. Escaler, S.J., D.D. was also saying mass in our school. He's a very kind and approachable bishop.  

It was said by one of Philippine historians that had our national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal not martyred, he would have chosen to become a Jesuit. In one of Dr. Rizal's writings, he expressed his profound admiration for his Jesuit teacher at Ateneo Municipal. One thing which perplexes me was during Dr. Rizal's execution. At that time, two Jesuit priests was beside him to give him the final prayers. We know that Dr. Rizal was executed because the Spanish friars (particularly the Dominicans) were angry with his publication of a book which they purported to be against the Catholic church and labeled him a heretic. In my mind, the gesture of the two Jesuit priests present at his execution was a profound expression that the Jesuits are welcoming even the dire of sinners, the persecuted and the marginalized. Isn't this an epitome of God's love which is inclusive for all? This is the reason why for me, the Society of Jesus is a very attractive organization and becoming a Jesuit is a pure expression of God 's love that knows no bounds.


IN MANHATTAN PLAYWRIGHT LARRY MYERS pens a new experimental stagework -- "POPE FRANCIS SKETCHBOOK." DR MYERS directs rwm playwrights lab & is PROFESSOR at ST JOHN s UNIVERSITY. Various former  MYERS students hold offices in the VATICAN. His play will invariably land in the hands of our new MAN OF THE YEAR.


" Typically, a Jesuit leader is renowned for both their holiness and their judgement"  This statement contains a profound incongruity .....Holiness is directly proportional to superstition....a person with sound judgement will quickly dismiss the superstition that was genetically inherited from his pagan ancestors.


@ronaldbiggs1960 Not at all. Religion encourages holiness but does not condone superstition. Therefore, your proposal for direct proportion relationship between holiness and superstition is entirely wrong. 

Provide to me a quantitative proof of the direct proportion between holiness and superstition so that I will believe you. Otherwise, it will be left to intellectual speculation.  


The Catholic Church is really, really wealthy. We'll see rather quickly whether the new pope is serious about serving the poor. My bet, he doesn't move to liquidate any significant part of the amassed wealth of the church to fund development.


A JESUITS OATH ; You will then give and receive with him the following questions and answers:-"

So he is Peter the Roman anyway !!!!!!!!!
Question:- From whither do you come? 

Answer:- The Holy faith.

Q.:- Whom do you serve?

A.:- The Holy Father at Rome, the Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church Universal throughout the world.

Q.:- Who commands you?

A.:- The Successor of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus or the Soldiers of Jesus Christ.

Q.:- Who received you? 

A.:- A venerable man in white hair.

Q.:- How?

A.:- With a naked dagger, I kneeling upon the cross beneath the banners of the Pope and of our sacred order.

Q.:- Did you take an oath?

A.:- I did, to destroy heretics and their governments and rulers, and to spare neither age, sex nor condition. To be as a corpse without any opinion or will of my own, but to implicitly obey my Superiors in all things without hesitation of murmuring.

Q.:- Will you do that? 

A.:- I will.

Q.:- How do you travel? 

A.:- IN THE BARK OF PETER THE FISHERMAN                                                  

Q.:- Whither do you travel? 

A.:- To the four quarters of the globe.

Q.:- For what purpose?

A.:- To obey the orders of my general and Superiors and execute the will of the Pope and faithfully fulfill the conditions of my oaths.

Q.:- Go ye, then, into all the world and take possession of all lands in the name of the Pope. He who will not accept him as the Vicar of Jesus and his Vice-regent on earth, let him be accursed and exterminated."


Sorry for my spelling in the previos post I wasn´t wearing glasses . But I truely hope that he 

stops the Blasphemous Tradition of Marion Worship and praying to the saints for help . 

The saints like Mary are in Heaven and cannot hear your prayers . Only God can . 

I hope he truely Preaches the CROSS .


I hope all the best for the Pope And I hope he asa a scholar starts to lead the Catholics away from

The Blasphemy of Marion Worship and preaches the Cross .


All of the 3 comments I've read make sense to me...aside from the fact that each and everyone of us is entitle to our take on these matters, regardless of race, culture, religion & all those demographics that many times separate us as human beings for practical purposes. Fact of the matter is, his chosen name is of Franchesco of Assisi. Jesuit or not, that says a lot to me. Political gimmickry. I think not. Then again, if politics is the system of bringing people together for a worthy & perhaps universal cause, then go go go, politics!


I'm really glad we have a Jesuit pope because I'm familiar with your order and know how hard you all  work to make this world a better place. So good luck and congratulations...I guess? 


If one is standing in the Narthex before Mass,would it be politically correct to say, "Hey! How 'bout them Jesuits?"


Maybe Pope Francesco can now reach out beyond Argentina and tell the Jesuit Superior in Rome to clean out the cesspool at Georgetown U.