Meet the men who have answered God’s call to ministry by clicking on their photos in the right column.
By Doris Yu
September 18, 2017 — For the Society of Jesus, known for its Jesuit schools and commitment to education, the end of summer signals the beginning of the school year — but it also means the entrance of a new novice class. The Society of Jesus in the U.S., Canada and Haiti welcomed 38 new novices this August at novitiates in Louisiana, California, Minnesota, New York, Quebec and Haiti.
Ranging in age from 21 to 47, the men will live in community, learn the rhythm of daily prayer, and deepen their understanding of God’s call to the Society.
St. Ignatius Loyola, who co-founded the Society in 1540, detailed the process of becoming a Jesuit in the Jesuit Constitutions. The total journey toward Jesuit priesthood or brotherhood can take from eight to 12 years. For the first two years — the novitiate — the novices complete a series of “experiments,” designed to test the men’s vocations and help the men discern the specific ways each Jesuit is called to serve the Church.
Examples of experiments include serving the poor and marginalized at various Jesuit ministries, teaching, learning a foreign language, working in a hospital and making a pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage experiment is scheduled during the novices’ second year. Though the process varies at each novitiate, novices are generally sent out with a one-way bus ticket, little or no money and the clothes on their back, and are expected to return within a few weeks to a month. The men learn to trust in God and become comfortable with uncertainty.
“The drama of it all, at the end of the day, had nothing to do with whether or not I was going to have food to eat or a place to sleep,” said Eric Immel, SJ, recalling his pilgrimage experience. “I realized that even sleeping on the streets, I could still rest my head at night, because the drama has something to do with trusting that God’s hand is actually guiding me through all of it.”
“God had given me everything I had asked for and even some of the things I had forgotten to ask for!” wrote Fr. Chris Manahan, SJ, about his pilgrimage experience in America magazine. “The final grace of my pilgrimage was the recognition that God has never been outdone in generosity.”
The relationship between God and each Jesuit is developed in many forms throughout the novitiate. Novices also make St. Ignatius’ 30-day Spiritual Exercises silent retreat and get accustomed to daily prayer and daily Mass.
In their second year, the novices go on a “long experiment” lasting several months, where they are assigned to a ministry at a Jesuit apostolate, often a Jesuit school.
Novices in the U.S. and Canada spend one of their summers at Regis University in Denver at an extended conference on Jesuit history, learning about St. Ignatius and meeting the other novices around the country.
These activities allow novices to dive into the work of the Society, at the margins, as fellow Jesuit Pope Francis has urged.
The pope, who entered the Jesuit novitiate in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1958, said, “The Jesuit always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center. This is his real strength. And that pushes the Society to be searching, creative and generous.”
Typical days at the novitiate consist of classes taught by the director and his Socius (assistant); daily Mass; group prayer; talking with one another in small groups about their spiritual journeys; helping with chores around the house; social time; and unstructured time.
There is time for sports, hobbies, going out to the movies, relaxation, and getting to know one another.
“I’m pleased to say, the community side of things, so far, has been one of the greatest blessings,” wrote one novice on the British Jesuits’ blog. “We each have our foibles and ways of doing things, our different worldviews, and there are always people in a group who you have more in common with. But these bumps along the way are as nothing to the general desire to connect and support and move forward together.”
With the arrival of 13 new novices this fall, the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, now has its largest total class of first- and second-year novices in 37 years: 21 novices.
The novice director and Socius guide the novices in their journeys and get to know each novice well.
Father Mark Thibodeaux, SJ, director of novices at St. Stanislaus Kostka, said that the large size of the class presents some gratifying challenges. “Much of the novices’ formation involves one-on-one visits with the novice director, so I will spend an enormous amount of time in ‘the chair,’” he said. “I’ve had to pull way back on outside commitments in order to acquire more hours in my day. It’s a wonderful problem to have!”
In the first days at the novitiate, each novice has a chance to tell his life story. “It takes a long, long time to go through 21 novices this way!” Fr. Thibodeaux said. “I’ve scheduled over 1,000 minutes just for sharing the life stories.”
The ultimate goal of the novitiate for each man is to deepen the novice’s relationship with Jesus Christ, to come to love and serve him better.
After two years, the novice will have become confident in his vocation, grown into a more intimate relationship with God and developed an increasing love for the Society of Jesus. He will then profess First Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and continue on to the next stage of Jesuit formation, First Studies, for two years of graduate-level philosophy courses.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.