Today’s formation process goes beyond just the number of Jesuits. Formation holds true to the spiritual roots set by St. Ignatius himself, which have shaped generations of priests and brothers for nearly 500 years.
For five years, Father Michael Boughton, SJ, served as formation director for the East Coast. As he begins a new part of his own Jesuit journey, he shares insights on the state of Jesuit formation today.
Every religious order in the Church has always given special consideration and care to the formation of its new members in the vision, mission, values and spirit of the Community. The Society of Jesus is no exception. Jesuit formation today —the process between the day a man enters the Society as a novice and the day when he is ordained a priest of the Church (or when a brother completes all his studies)—is a long, thorough and challenging experience. This process is rooted in the vision of St. Ignatius Loyola, the mission and the expectations of the Society and the Church today, and the background and gifts of the man himself.
Certain cornerstones of Jesuit formation have been present from the very beginning of the Society and originated with St. Ignatius himself. Chief among these are the Spiritual Exercises; the importance of daily Eucharist and the Examen; creative fidelity to the Church; a solid academic education, stressing philosophy, theology and the humanities; ministry to and with the poor; fraternal and simple communal living, nourished and led by a superior; the ministry of education; and continued growth in the freedom to be “sent on mission.” For Ignatius, this Jesuit “way of proceeding” is “our certain pathway to God.” Ignatius knew that there are many pathways to God, and he was convinced, based on his own experience of God’s leading him, that this pathway is a tried and true path of his brothers and sons in the Society.
In our most recent General Congregations, the Society of Jesus repeatedly articulated our mission in the Church and world today: the proclamation of faith, carried out in humble service to God’s people, which always includes the promotion of the justice of God’s reign. This proclamation invites us to dialogue with other religions and with culture. The mission of the Society today is in clear alignment with the Church’s renewed sense of the evangelization of our modern world, with special attention given to social media, the plight of refugees and immigrants, and the fostering of the culture of life for all people. This is the Society of today and tomorrow for which our men are being formed.
Men who enter the Society today as novices are usually in their 20s or early 30s, and often have a rich and varied personal, educational, and work background. Jesuit formation seeks to encourage each man to treasure and develop his personality and gifts, always in dialogue and discernment with his superiors; to increasingly take on and make his own the mind and heart of Christ, as he comes to know those more deeply in the Spiritual Exercises and his own ongoing daily prayer; and to thoroughly embrace the living tradition, values and mission of the Society, in which he has pledged his life to God in poverty, chastity and obedience. All of this is a rich, challenging, demanding and fulfilling process and journey.
For the last five years, I have had the privilege of standing with our men in formation from the East Coast provinces as they walk this pilgrim path: listening to, encouraging and occasionally challenging them as God leads and nurtures them. It has humbled me and made me proud of the Society as I have watched them grow into Jesuits who love and follow Christ and who love and serve His people with joy and fidelity. These five years have been for me a great grace and consolation.
Fr. Michael Boughton, SJ, now serves Boston College’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality.