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

  • Share
  • Read Later
St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits
DEA / VENERANDA BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA / De Agostini / Getty Images

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.

18 comments
theatercritic
theatercritic

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.

ronaldbiggs1960
ronaldbiggs1960

" 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.

russell.frege
russell.frege

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.

rn4dstork
rn4dstork

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."

Drdem
Drdem

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 .

Drdem
Drdem

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 .

RightEdition
RightEdition

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!

SilvijaVlahovec
SilvijaVlahovec

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? 

WardNorris
WardNorris

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

WoodyPfister
WoodyPfister

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

daena.vassar
daena.vassar

@russell.frege :-) We need radicals that start a revolution to transfer the vast monies of the Church and temple and divert them towards worthier pursuits such as physics, chemistry, astronomy.

daena.vassar
daena.vassar

@rn4dstork:-) We need radicals that start a revolution to transfer the vast monies of the Church and temple and divert them towards worthier pursuits such as physics, chemistry, astronomy.

rn4dstork
rn4dstork

@Drdem  Sorry brother but you have NO UNDERSTANDING  of MARY. Don't forget that Jesus performed His 1st miracle after His Mother said : "They have no wine"  He : "My hour hasn't come yet" But She told the servers :"Do whatever He says to you "  And you know that Jesus turned water into wine. As His Mother She constantly shows us the Way to HIM."

MARY, SWEETEST OF ALL MOTHERS

Oh Thou,
most beautiful a woman
most tender of all mothers
most brilliant STAR of DAVID
Masterpiece of God's creation
to the Holy Trinity
most precious Pearl
towards your Son the Golden Bridge
Golden Gate
to the Holy City
thru which our Savior
came and comes
Most sacred Vessel
ever
containing the most Holy
My soul,
is drowning
in the beauty of your eyes
in the sweetness of your smile
in the burning oven of your heart
in the greatness of your littleness
in the eloquence of your silence
in the mystery of your simplicity
Oh Thou,
safest of my earthly havens
dearest hiding-place of mine
truly my refuge
my sweetest, sweetest mother
keep me with your Son Divine
save me from the wordly evils
strengthen my so fragile faith
cover me 
with your motherly mantle
Oh Mary, you most gentle
Your child I am FOREVER !!!

Rita Biesemans
August 10 1999 Feast of Saint Lawrence



Pi314
Pi314

@Drdem *sigh* We don't worship Mary or the saints. We ask them to pray for us, similar to how when you ask a friend/random person to pray for you. It's no different.

w_mingjie
w_mingjie

@Drdem I, on the other hand, truly pray for your blasphemous spelling despite your glasses, and also true tolerance as a Christian towards other religions and denominations before declaring them blasphemous.

daena.vassar
daena.vassar

@rn4dstork @DrdemTo be an expert in theology, is to be an expert on "Lord of the Rings": hardly the degree that should get you a job or help you save the world.

To even debate on the "details" of the book, facts regarding "nuderstanding" of Mary, and such is as pointless as asking why Hobbits and not more reasonalbly sized Men were not bearers of the Ring.

ajscheck
ajscheck

*sigh* 1st of all it's not similar to asking a friend/random person,cause their not DEAD! 2nd Why ask Mary or a saint to pray for u when the BIBLE says there is only ONE mediator between God & man it is Jesus Christ. Pray to Jesus, the bible says He is the ONLY one who can hear your prayers. You may not think you are worshiping Mary but the religion you follow does! Read the catechism on their belief on her, then look at the rosary. There is a catholic cathedral in Pisa, where they have Jesus & God offering their crowns to Mary,where people KISS her image. They KISS her statue. They KISS her picture. They crawl on their knees in penitential pain as some kind of preparation to come before statues of her! They pray to her regularly using the "rosary". The rosary as you probably know is a series of ten prayers,there are 5 of the tens making 50 prayers, & there are 5 prayers in between. The 50 are to Mary, the 5 are to GOD. There are 5 "our fathers" there are 50 " Hail Marys". For every time you pray to God you pray 10 times to Mary. This is no different than worshiping Baal,Caesar, or Buddha!!. And this whole cult of Mary worship would an unspeakable horror to Mary if she ever knew,which she never will! Mary was a wonderful woman of God, & we can learn great things from her life & devotion to her son & savior, but she is no different then you or I. Luke 1:46&47 says and Mary said my soul exalts The Lord,& my spirit has rejoiced in God MY SAVIOR!! I challenge you to search the history of Roman Catholicism it's roots of their belief system, & search the scripture,and see if it is man made or founded on scripture alone.And just to let you know, I am truly saying this out of Love,I'm not trying to be mean.