Society of Servants

Oct. 23-29, 2003
VOL 122 NO. 37
Society of Servants
Father Daniel Mulhauser,SJ, presides at Mass for the Jesiuts at LeMoyne College
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
For over 460 years Jesuit priests and brothers have lived an extraordinary story of serving the church in new and innovative ways. They teach and run schools, lead the faithful in worship and bring Christ’s presence to the most needy of people while tackling the causes of the problems. Their good work encircles the globe –– from the major cities of the developed world to the slums of Third World countries. But most people are unfamiliar with the essence of a Jesuit. Why does one become a Jesuit? How are they unique? What exactly is a Jesuit?

The Society of Jesus, the proper title of the Jesuit order, can be traced back to one man: Iñigo de Loyola, born in 1491. An unfortunate incident in his life set into motion a chain of events that led to the establishment of the Jesuits. Ignatius (the Latin version of his name) was the youngest of 13 children in a family of minor Spanish nobility. As a young man Ignatius entered military service, but fought in only one major battle, the defense of Pamplona against the French in 1521. He was hit in the leg by a cannonball and unceremoniously sent home on a stretcher.

It is said that his conversion occurred during his extensive recovery from his injury. Ignatius, bedridden for many months, passed the time reading. According to legend, though he asked for novels, Ignatius was instead given The Life of Christ and The Lives of the Saints to read. The religious books transformed Ignatius’ life. His new-found faith led him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem after he recovered from his injury. On the way to the Holy City he stopped in a village called Manresa, where he spent several months tending to the sick and praying for divine guidance. He secluded himself in a cave outside of the town where he began to write “Spiritual Exercises,” a manual of Christian prayer and meditation.

Ignatius entered various schools and universities when he returned to Spain, ultimately studying in Paris. There he was ordained to the priesthood and joined a group of other priests, who all followed his Spiritual Exercises. The group later took the name, “The Society of Jesus,” nicknamed the Jesuits by outsiders. The initials “SJ” after a man’s name identified him as part of the order. The Jesuits settled in Rome and offered their services to Pope Paul III. The Society of Jesus formally came into existence on Sept. 27, 1540. In the remaining years of Ignatius’ life, he saw the order he founded grow from 10 men to 1,000. He was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622.

This is the recorded history of the Jesuit order. But there are other tidbits of information not found in textbooks –– stories that can be shared only by Jesuits themselves. Father William Dolan, SJ, is a campus minister and history professor at Le Moyne College. Over time he has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about the order he has belonged to for 33 years. Father Dolan shares this information annually with Le Moyne faculty during an entertaining presentation he calls “Secrets of the Jesuits.” Admitting his secrets would be no longer hidden, Father Dolan agreed to share some facts people do not generally know about Jesuits –– until now.

Jesuits are perhaps most associated in the U.S. with their extensive work in education. This is evident in the number of educational institutions at all academic levels named after Ignatius and the Jesuit order. According to Father Dolan, the dedication Jesuits have to missionary work is just as significant as their commitment to education, but lesser known among people in the U.S. “Throughout the world there are actually more Jesuits doing missionary work, but in the U.S. we have a greater number of Jesuits involved in secondary and higher education,” said Father Dolan.

Some 500 U.S. Jesuit missionaries work abroad with local Jesuits and lay ministers in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Near East, India and Micronesia and in the U.S. among Native Americans. Jesuits are commissioned worldwide to proclaim the good news of salvation, in many instances to people who have never heard of Christ. “The purpose of a Jesuit missionary is to nurture the community where they are serving. They are not trying to convert the people away from their religion,” said Father Dolan. Placing themselves in the midst God’s people is fundamental to the Jesuits. Intending to keep this form of ministry of the utmost importance, Ignatius mandated that Jesuits decline honorary positions such as bishop, monsignor and episcopal vicar. “This vow was added for humility,” Father Dolan explained. “Ignatius felt that once you have such a high honor you are a separated from the life of the church. Rather than be stuck in a position of authority, he wanted the men to be directly involved.” There are exceptions, Father Dolan noted. “The request of the pope precedes the rule. When he makes a request to have a Jesuit serve in special places, you don’t quibble about it,” he said.

This obligation stems from the special relationship Jesuits have with the pope. While Jesuits take the traditional religious vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, they also make a special fourth vow of obedience to the pope for special missions. “This vow of obedience is our primary vow,” said Father Dolan. “A Jesuit must be available to the pope to serve wherever and whenever the need is greatest.” Sometimes the Jesuits have been called to serve the pope in unusual ways, as was the case in the 1950s. Father Dolan shed some light on this little known anecdote. “It was really an accidental mission,” he said. “A Jesuit general superior asked Pope Pius XII if he had any special mission for the order. He was hoping the pope had something in mind for the order to do about poverty, but the pope didn’t have a mission. I think to get him off his back, the pope suggested they all stop smoking.” “To smoke, Jesuits needed the permission of the house doctor,” added Father Dolan. Smoking cigarettes, however, did not become a sin. Eventually the request was rescinded, but men of the Jesuit order have held steadfast to the words of Ignatius who told them, “Go and set the world on fire.” Today there are approximately 3,512 Jesuits in America, the largest contingent of Jesuits in the world. Usually it is another Jesuit –– be it a teacher, professor, or pastor –– who inspires a man to join the order, said Father Dolan. According to Father Vincent Ryan, SJ, who celebrated the 70th anniversary of his ordination in 2002, it was a Jesuit teacher who inspired him when he was 13 years old. “It pretty much comes down to my first encounter with a Jesuit. He won me over,” said Father Ryan. “Every Jesuit I have met since then has conformed to my first impressions.”

Although each Jesuit chooses the way he will best serve the order, the journey to get there is the same. All men go through extensive Jesuit formation, ranging from nine to 12 years. The duration is lengthier than it takes for a man to become a diocesan priest, but it allows him to contemplate Jesuit life seriously. “Ignatius wanted the early order and its successors to get a long look at the ministry and if the life was not for him, to find another means of serving God,” Father Dolan said. “It was important to Ignatius that all Jesuits embody the spirit of the order.”

Michael Magree is a second-year Jesuit novice, traditionally referred to as “Mr.” The novitiate is the first stage of Jesuit formation and consists of two years of work, study and reflection. Magree lives at the Jesuit formation house in Syracuse along with 24 Jesuit novices from three provinces. A part of formation is to perform “low and humble service” to the poor and needy, said Magree. In January he worked as an orderly helping cancer patients at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. He scrubbed floors and helped bathe the patients. The small tasks are a big part of what it means to be a Jesuit, said Magree. “You can’t fly on what you are smart in or what you know you are good at, but the simple things. It is the little things that count the most,” Magree said. “You begin to see things in a new perspective from love of God and people,” he added. Magree could have chosen to serve God in another capacity, such as a diocesan priest, but he found himself drawn to the Jesuit’s overwhelming sense of spirituality. “For me, it wasn’t a question of ‘not that, this.’ There is something attractive about being a Jesuit and the relationship they have with Jesus,” he said. “The way a Jesuit prays is focused directly on the person of Jesus. There is a kind of friendship with Him that I think is very special.”

Every novice makes a long retreat –– the full Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. “If any one factor is a common bedrock to every Jesuit, it is the union of vision and practicality embodied in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius,” wrote Father William O’Mally, SJ, in his book The Fifth Week. For 30 days the novice lives in silence, speaking only once daily with a Jesuit to share his experience. The retreat focuses not only on thought, but also on feeling and emotion to bring one closer to God. The isolation gives novices an opportunity to deepen their connection with God. “You are separating yourself from everything and praying intensely. There is a great sense of self-knowledge that comes from prayer and knowing God,” Magree said. “The sense of commonality that each Jesuit before and after you will participate in this deep contemplation and reflection is special,” said Magree. “It is like a new family of brothers.”

This community continues on the rest of one’s life, said Father Ryan. “Being a Jesuit takes you outside the community, but there is always a community to come back to for respite and support,” he said. The Jesuit order has grown and thrived over the years, but it has remained loyal to the order Ignatius began long ago. The Ignatian spirit of faith, love and compassion carries on. “Each Jesuit has a mission,” said Father Dolan. “For his whole life, he should be doing volunteer work pro bono. If every Jesuit does this, then we will have succeeded.”

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