Saint Louis University

Jesuit FAQ

What is a Jesuit?
Officially known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits are a Catholic religious order of men founded in 1540 by Ignatius Loyola. Their mission is to go anywhere and do anything to "help souls," especially where the need is greatest, particularly where certain people or certain work was neglected. Though frequently associated with education, the Jesuits were originally a missionary order. Today, the Jesuits are the largest missionary order in the world. Currently, there are 23,000 Jesuits worldwide and about 50 who are active on the SLU campus.

What does "Jesuit" mean?
The term was originally coined as a putdown by people who felt there was something terribly arrogant about a group calling itself the Society of Jesus, whereas previous religious orders had been content to name themselves after their founder (e.g. Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans). Later the title was adopted as a shorthand name by members of the Society themselves, as well as by others favorable to them. (Taken from "Do You Speak Ignatian," by George Traub, S.J.)

What makes an education Jesuit?
In the summer of 2002, the Society of Jesus in the United States published Communal Reflection on the Jesuit Mission in Higher Education: A Way of Proceeding. Addressed to their colleagues in Jesuit higher education, the Jesuits invited them to an inclusive, local discussion on the essential characteristics of higher education in the distinctive Catholic and Jesuit tradition, yet open to the values and convictions of other members of our communities who join them in their mission.

The some key characteristics of Jesuit higher education that the Jesuits offer for further reflection and discussion are:
  1. Dedication to human dignity from a Catholic, Jesuit faith perspective.
    For the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, God can be found in all things, because all of reality is an arena of God's self-revelation.
  2. Reverence for and an ongoing reflection on human experience.
    This is key to The Spiritual Exercises. It is premised in the belief that one can discover God's presence in one's life and the freedom to respond to that presence through a series of prayer exercises and through personal conversation.
  3. Creative companionship with colleagues
  4. Focused care for students
    Cura personalis (care of the person) has been a characteristic of Jesuit education throughout its 450 years.
  5. Well-educated justice and solidarity.
    This characteristic was clearly addressed by the Society's current head, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, at a national gathering at Santa Clara University in 2000:
"The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become. Tomorrow's 'whole person' cannot be whole without a well-educated solidarity. We must therefore raise our Jesuit educational standard to educate the whole person of solidarity for the real world. Solidarity is learned through 'contact' rather than through 'concepts.' When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change."
Who is Ignatius?
St. Ignatius of Loyola StatueSt. Ignatius of Loyola StatueIgnatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was the youngest child of a noble Basque family fiercely loyal to the Spanish crown, and was raised to be a courtier. Trying valiantly to defend the fortress town of Pamplona in 1521, a French cannonball shattered his leg and led him to reconsider his way of life. While he recuperated from his wounds at the family estate, he had only two books to read, the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. The books he read and the daydreams he entertained had a great effect on him, so much so that he decided to lay aside his sword of war and take up what he called the "sword of Christ."

This change in life plans led him to seek an education at the University of Paris. There, he formed a circle of friends who, with time, decided to band together and dedicate themselves to the greater glory of God and the good of all people. When their efforts to go to the Holy Land met with disappointment, they decided to place themselves at the service of the Pope, who could send them throughout the world, wherever there was a need. Wherever the Jesuits went throughout the world, their mission remained the same: To "seek the greater glory of God and the good of humanity."

What is Ignatian Spirituality?
Like all Christian spirituality, Ignatian spirituality provides a person a method to integrate one's relationship to God and to the world. Ignatian spirituality, like other Christian spiritualities, bases its integration on a particular insight into the person of Jesus and His relationship to the world. Being a companion with Jesus on his mission gave Ignatius of Loyola's life a sense of purpose and meaning. It is just such companionship that lies at the heart of Ignatian spirituality.

The characteristics of Ignatian spirituality are the characteristics of Ignatius' spiritual life. A brief summary of these characteristics might include:
  • an awareness of being created and redeemed by God's love,

  • the understanding that Jesus initiates this redemption within the ordinariness of the world, demonstrating that the world is a good place to live and work,

  • a desire to work as a companion of Jesus to continue this mission in the world,

  • the practice of continual prayer and discernment to discover how God speaks to the soul,

  • the discovery of the presence of the Spirit in community.
(from the Web site of the Maryland Province Jesuits)

What are the Spiritual Exercises?
Ignatius collected his formative experiences of prayer into what became known as his "Spiritual Exercises." He offered these to men and women of his time as helpful means for them to attend to God's call, choosing to live committed lives of Christian service. The Exercises invite the "retreatant" to "meditate" on central aspects of Christian faith (e.g. creation, sin and forgiveness, calling and ministry) and especially to "contemplate" (i.e. imaginatively enter into) the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. With the help of a spiritual guide, the goal of the Exercises is the attainment of spiritual freedom and the power to act out of the promptings of God's spirit in the truest core of one's being -- to act ultimately out of love.

(from "Do You Speak Ignatian?" by George Traub, S.J.)

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