Jesuits are widely known for their colleges and universities, as well as their high schools. This is no surprise; education is a cornerstone of the Society of Jesus and has been since Jesuit schools first began spreading through Europe in the late 1540s.
Names like “Xavier” and “Loyola,” however, do not tell the full story of Jesuit ministries. The works are far broader in scope, extending from middle schools in the inner city to refugee camps near Iraq, from retreat houses with an ocean view to parishes near college campuses. Jesuits — together with their lay collaborators — are called to these and many other ministries.
In his message to the 35th General Congregation of Jesuits (GC35) in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared, “The Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach.”
During the first days of his papacy, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, added his own heartfelt prayers, calling on God to “illuminate and accompany all Jesuits” along these paths.
Geographically speaking, Jesuits serve wherever the need is greatest, from hard-pressed urban neighborhoods in Chicago to developing schools in Kenya. With lay collaborators, Jesuits are involved in myriad international works through flagship organizations like the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Spiritually speaking, Jesuits and their friends minister to people in the hard-to-reach places of the heart. They serve as military chaplains, helping soldiers find meaning far from home; as prison chaplains, accompanying those behind bars in a journey of reconciliation; as hospital chaplains, praying for healing together with patients and families; and in many other pastoral settings. Jesuits address issues ranging from interreligious dialogue in countries torn apart by violence to access to education and the struggle for environmental justice. Wherever they go, Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s followers explore the frontiers of mission and ministry.
“Thus as this world changes, so does the context of our mission,” declared the Jesuits at GC35. “And new frontiers beckon that we must be willing to embrace.”