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Society of Jesus/Jesus formation (training)

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Society of Jesus
Abbreviation SJ, Jesuits
Formation 15 August 1534
Type Catholic religious order
Headquarters Church of the Gesu,
Rome, Italy
Superior General Adolfo Nicolás
Key people Ignatius of Loyola — founder

The formation (training) of Jesuits seeks to prepare men spiritually, academically and practically for the ministries they will be called to offer the Church and world. St. Ignatius was strongly influenced by the Renaissance and wanted Jesuits to be able to offer whatever ministries were most needed at any given moment, and especially, to be ready to respond to missions (assignments) from the Pope. Formation for Priesthood normally takes between 8 and 14 years, depending on the man's background and previous education, and final vows are taken several years after that, making Jesuit formation among the longest of any of the religious orders.

  • Candidacy is an informal precursor to becoming a Jesuit, wherein a man interested in joining the Jesuits explores his calling with a spiritual director. This varies from country to country. The candidate attends Jesuit vocation events, including retreats and discussions with other candidates and Jesuits. Candidacy can last any length of time, with the norm being about a year. During this time, the candidate may or may not live in a Jesuit community.
  • Novitiate is the first stage of formation. The Novice begins to live the three vows of poverty, chastity, obedience (though he has not yet vowed himself publicly), completes the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, learns about the history and practice of the order and enters into a series of “experiments.” These experiments are usually short ministerial assignments where the novice tests his aptitude for various ministries, such as, teaching, working with the marginalized or giving retreats. The novitiate lasts two years. Jesuit novices may place the letters "n. S.J." after their names.

At this point, the novice pronounces his First Vows (perpetual Simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and a vow to persevere to final profession and ordination) and becomes either a Scholastic (entering onto the path of priesthood) or a Jesuit brother (technically known as a "temporal coadjutor", but officially styled "brother" today). The scholastics (who may be addressed by the secular title "Mister") and the Brothers (addressed by the title "Brother") of the Society of Jesus have different courses of study, although they often overlap.

For scholastics, the usual course of studies is as follows:

  • First Studies is the period when the scholastic begins his academic formation. Depending on his prior education it will last 2–4 years, guaranteeing a grounding in philosophy and the attainment of at least a first university level degree thus, in the United States, a four-year bachelor's degree (unless this has already been earned). It may also introduce the study of theology or some other specialized area.
  • As Jesuits, particularly in the United States, serve on the faculties of high schools and universities, and in a wide variety of other positions, the Jesuit scholastic or Jesuit priest often earns a master or doctoral degree on some area—it may be, for instance, Theology or it may be History, English, Chemistry, Educational Administration, Law or any other subject. Hence, a Jesuit may spend another few years earning a graduate degree beyond the bachelor's.
  • Regency is the next stage, wherein the scholastic lives and works in a typical Jesuit community (as opposed to the “formation communities” he has lived insofar). He is engaged full-time in ministry (an Apostolate), which is traditionally teaching in a secondary school, but it may be any ministry Jesuits are engaged in. Regency lasts for 2–3 years.
  • Theology is the stage immediately preceding ordination. By universal canon law, every candidate for priestly ordination must complete four years of theology studies, though part of this requirement may have been met in first studies. This will include the attainment of a first degree in theology (such as the Bachelor of Sacred Theology), and usually a second (masters level) degree in a specialized area related to theology. (As such, it is not uncommon for a Jesuit to hold a master's level degree in Theology, and, as mentioned above, a second master's or a doctorate in a completely different field.)
  • Ordination follows, and the new priest may receive a ministerial assignment or be sent back for further studies in any academic field.
  • The ordained Jesuit priest will either be chosen for profession as a "spiritual coadjutor", taking the usual perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, or for profession as a "professed of the four vows."
  • A few years after ordination to priesthood, or for brothers after a number of years work, a Jesuit will undertake Tertianship, so named because it is something like a third year of novitiate. After his first fews years of experience of ministry as a priest or brother, the Jesuit completes the final stage of formal formation by revisiting the essentials of Jesuit life which he learned as a novice: once again, he studies the history and Constitutions of the Jesuits, he makes the Spiritual Exercises and participates in experimentism, most often by serving in ministries to the sick, terminally ill or poor.
  • Final Vows for the fully professed follow upon tertianship, wherein the Jesuit pronounces perpetual solemn vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and the Fourth vow, unique to Jesuits, of special obedience to the pope in matters regarding mission, promising to undertake any mission laid out in the Formula of the Institute the pope may choose.
  • Only the professed of the Four Vows are eligible for posts like novice master, provincial superior or assistant to the general of the society.
  • The professed of the Four Vows take, in addition to these solemn perpetual vows five additional Simple Vows: not to consent to any mitigation of the Society's observance of poverty; not to "ambition" or seek any prelacies (ecclesiastical offices) outside the Society; not to ambition any offices within the Society; a commitment to report any Jesuit who does so ambition; and, if a Jesuit does become a bishop, to permit the general to continue to provide advice to that bishop, though the vow of obedience to Jesuit superiors is not operative over matters the man undertakes as bishop. Under these vows, no Jesuit may "campaign" or even offer his name for appointment or election to any office, and if chosen for one must remind the appointing authority (even the Pope) of these Vows—if the Pope commands that the Jesuit accept ordination as a bishop anyway, the Jesuit must keep an open ear to the Jesuit general as an influence.

The formation of Jesuit brothers has a much less structured form. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, Jesuit brothers worked almost exclusively within Jesuit communities as cooks, tailors, farmers, secretaries, accountants, librarians and maintenance support—they were thus technically known as "temporal coadjutors", as they assisted the professed priests by undertaking the more "worldly" jobs, freeing the professed of the four vows and the "spiritual coadjutors" to undertake the sacramental and spiritual missions of the Society. Following the Second Vatican Council, which recognized the mission of all the Christian faithful, not just those who are ordained, to share in the ministries of the Church, Jesuit brothers began to engage in ministries outside of their communities. Today, the formation of a Jesuit brother may take many forms, depending on his aptitude for ministry. He may pursue a highly academic formation which mirrors that of the scholastics (there are, for instance, some Jesuit brothers who serve as university professors), or he may pursue more practical training in areas such as pastoral counseling or spiritual direction (some assist in giving retreats, for instance), or he may continue in the traditional “supporting” roles in which so many Jesuit brothers have attained notable levels of holiness (as administrative aides, for example). Since Vatican II the Society has officially adopted the term "brother," which was always the unofficial form of address for the temporal coadjutors.

Regardless of the practical details, Jesuit formation is meant to form men who are open and ready to serve whatever is the Church’s current need. Today, all Jesuits are expected to learn English, and those who speak English as a first language are expected to learn Spanish.

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