Who are the Jesuits, ever heard of them?

Why do I care so much about this Society of Jesus? Well, I now attend one of the high schools in my home state which serves to carry on and take part in it. But how did I end up here? From kindergarten to fifth grade I went to an IPS school, where the students and teachers were kindhearted and cared for the students well-being. I then transferred to a completely different environment: a Catholic school. Don’t get me wrong, I had been Catholic since the day I was born. I was baptized, made my First Communion, attended mass every Sunday and on obligatory days. The whole package deal. I just wasn’t used to the religious part of my life being mashed together with my school life. Especially with going from elementary to middle school in a different school. So this was a strange transition for me. I had gone from learning about the basic subjects; Math, English, Social Studies and Science, to having religion class added to all of that. As well as going to mass twice a week. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it was certainly something I hadn’t experienced before. I did notice that I had a lot more people that I could talk to about my faith, which was something new.

Then came time to choose a high school. My classmates were all choosing schools like Cardinal Ritter, Cathedral, and Carmel. Then I heard about my friends going to a school with a Jesuit education; this piqued my interests. 

Like everyone else in my grade, I took the high school placement test. Weeks after the test I got a package in the mail from the school I had tested for. I went inside my house and sat down at the kitchen table. I opened the box and inside was a letter addressed to me saying I had gotten accepted. I was so delighted at the fact that I had gotten into a prestigious and rigorous school. My parents were also excited, mainly because I was continuing my education at a Catholic school.

On my first day of classes I was very nervous because it was a new school with new people and new experiences. During the day, I went through every class, meeting all of my teachers and classmates. Then I got to a class that was different to any other class I have had before. It was an introduction to religious studies class. I was expecting to relearn everything I had already learned at home and at my previous school. Things like, when are the Catholic obligatory days, what are the ten commandments, who got eaten by a whale (It’s Jonah, by the way), how many disciples did Jesus have. On the contrary, we learned about key theological concepts and language like discernment.

“The process for making choices in the context of faith. They are oftentimes choices that are not between good and evil, but in between possible actions which are potentially good.” 

-Ligonier Ministries

Other than the teachings in the religion classes, the environment of the class is different. I love that in a Jesuit education one doesn’t look at things only from a Catholic perspective, but from all kinds of religious perspectives. It’s a place where students can talk openly about their faith. We’ll be discussing a story in the Bible and we won’t only talk about it from a Catholic perspective, but also from everyone else’s religious perspectives. Another amazing thing is that we don’t only look at the Bible, but we also look at the special books in other faith traditions. 

In my last year of high school, I can say that having a Jesuit education has changed my life. I have learned to be open to growth. My mind has opened to learning new things and not staying in my own little thought bubble. Accepting that there are people with other perspectives that might differentiate from my own. I have learned to be intellectually competent. Whenever I have to make a decision, I am reminded that there are other people being affected by my decisions. Having this Jesuit education has given me the wisdom to make right decisions.

In middle school, religion wasn’t the same. Having the opportunity of receiving a Jesuit education has made my faith stronger. The retreats offered at my school have made me believe more in myself and have strengthened my faith. One of those retreats being Kairos, meaning “God’s Time”. The Saint Ignatius’ examen at the end of the school day, where we reflect on where we have encountered God in our day, has allowed me to realize how much we encounter God without even noticing it. We expect God to show himself to us in mystical ways, but He can also appear to us in others through their kind actions. God can even be found in someone who is on the streets asking for help. 

My Jesuit education has enabled me to be more loving towards my neighbor. The people around me tend to tell me that I’ve always been a loving soul, but in my four years of Jesuit education I have learned of new ways I can be loving towards others. 

Finally, a Jesuit education has taught me to be committed to doing justice for my brothers and sisters. No matter what faith, race, sex, or background. We are all children of God and are loved equally by him.  

If I could, I would go on and on about how amazing a Jesuit education is and how much it has changed me for the better. But that would take tons of time and finger work. 

I’ve been going on and on about how amazing a Jesuit education is, but who are the Jesuits?

Great question! Ignatius de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, began his journey as a Spanish soldier. At that time he was interested in very common activities rooted in vice, like alcohol, women, parties, etc. But that lifestyle came to an end when he was defending his home of Pamplona, against the French. During the battle he was hit with a bomb which caused an injury to both his legs. During his recovery time he decided to turn a new leaf and live his life more saint like. 

In order to begin this new journey, he first had to receive treatment for his leg injuries. You might think Ignatius would receive medicine and be back to normal, but things weren’t that simple in 1521. His condition worsened so much that people thought he was lying in his death bed. Medication wasn’t enough and so he had to receive a major surgery in which one of his legs was removed in order for him to survive. This surgery wasn’t easy to recover from; it required weeks of bed rest. Ignatius didn’t plan on being bored the entire time so he asked the maids for some books. They didn’t have many books that Ignatius would typically be interested in. Although he didn’t know it, these books would take a huge role in Ignatius’ conversion to Catholicism. He was supplied with A Life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints. Most of his readings mainly focused on the saints. The version he was reading highlighted a Cistercian monk who understood serving God as holy chivalry. This perspective intrigued Ignatius, and after much discernment, he decided he wanted to imitate that life in penance for his sins.

In the year 1522, Ignatius was able to continue on with his life. He said his farewells to his family and traveled to Montserrat, an area of pilgrimage in northeastern Spain. He spent three days in reconciliation and in the end decided it was time to leave his old life behind and start anew. His way of doing so was by hanging his sword and dagger near the statue of the Virgin Mary and dressing up in sackcloth. From the years 1522-1523 he spent his life as a beggar and scourged himself. He attended mass daily and spent seven hours in prayer in a cave outside Manresa. During that time,

“the eyes of his fundamentals began to open and, without seeing any vision, he understood and knew many things, as well spiritual things as things of the faith”

Ignatius Autobiography, 30

Ignatius put these fundamentals into practice and journaled about his experience. This journal would later be referred to as the Spiritual Exercises. 

In 1523, Ignatius left Barcelona and traveled to Jerusalem in hopes of continuing to educate others about what he had learned. Ignatius’s visit was very brief because the Franciscan superintendent of the shrines of the Latin church disapproved of him and his teachings. But Ignatius was no sore loser- instead of giving up, he took this rejection as a sign from God that he was meant to be somewhere else.

In 1526 he decided to transfer to Acalá. By this time he had many followers who, as members of this new order, had assumed a distinctive attire; this caused for him to be suspected of blasphemy so he was imprisoned and tried. Ignatius was later found innocent and then released. After being released he traveled to Salamanca where he and his companions were imprisoned again. He was found innocent but was prohibited from teaching until he finished his education.

Ignatius was determined to continue preaching, so in 1528 he went to Paris and finished his education in 1535. The entire time he lived off of alms and begging to Spanish merchants in Flanders, as well in England. Ignatius encountered new disciples, but they caused such a commotion that he was left to justify them to the religious authorities. That’s when he decided to wait on public religious endeavors until his priesthood.

During Ignatius’s stay in the French capital, he gathered companions who would then be co founders of the Society of Jesus, one of them being St. Francis Xavier. They all traveled together to Montmartre, where they bound themselves by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In the early 1535, Ignatius had to leave Paris because of health issues. He resided in Venice after finishing his studies privately, his companions joined him eagerly. They were ready to restart their pilgrimage but the war between Venice and Turkish empire rendered this impossible. In the same year, Ignatius and his companions were ordained. They spend 18 months gaining experience in the ministry while devoting a lot of time for prayer as well. Although Ignatius was ordained, he hadn’t said a mass until he had an encounter with Jesus telling him to serve with him. On the Christmas of 1538, Ignatius said his first mass at the Church of St. Mary in Rome. 

Later on, Ignatius and his companions made a proposal to Pope Paul III about starting a Society of Jesus. In 1540 the proposal was approved and the Jesuit order was born. Under the leadership of Ignatius, the Society of Jesus grew rapidly. A lot of European faithful who had been lost to Protestantism were won back by the Jesuit missionaries. 

Education was essential to the Jesuits, which is why Ignatius founded the Roman College (aka Gregorian University) and a school for German priests called Germanicum. By the time Ignatius died, there were more than 1,000 Jesuit priests. Pope Francis being one of them. He is the first Jesuit to become Pope, so this has been a major achievement for them.

One final thought. At my school we use an acronym. AMDG. In latin it stands for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam which translates to For the greater glory of God. If Ignatius was able to find his way to God even though he started off as a soldier went through a lot of ups and downs, then we can also find our way back to him no matter how lost we think we are. If we do things for God with an intent of glory, we will always end up where we were meant to be. 

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