The Society of Jesus in the United States, Canada and Haiti welcomed 40 new Jesuit novices in 2020 at novitiates in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Quebec and Haiti. They have taken the initial step on their journey toward Jesuit priesthood or brotherhood, known as “Jesuit formation,” which can take a total of eight to 12 years.
In these first two years as novices, the men will learn what it means to live in community, adopt the rhythm of daily prayer and deepen their understanding of God’s call to the Society. They have selflessly devoted their lives to the service of the marginalized, to the church, to God and to each other.
Novices in Montreal with the novitiate team
St. Ignatius of Loyola, who co-founded the Society in 1540, first defined the elements of Jesuit formation in his Jesuit Constitutions. Jesuit novices still follow this plan today — adapted to the modern world.
“The novices best support the needs of the church in the modern world by preaching the Gospel in a way that all sorts of people can receive it,” says Fr. William O’Brien, SJ, novice director at the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado in St. Paul, Minnesota. “For this mission, they must learn to discern God’s presence in the wide range of cultures, sensibilities and human experiences that they will encounter.”
Thus begins a comprehensive program of service, ministry, study and prayer, methodically devised to help Jesuits grow in their relationships with Christ and identify how they can best serve him and all humankind. The new Jesuits attend orientation sessions, take on house jobs, share vocation stories and visit local Jesuit ministries.
Novices in Culver City, California
Fr. Joseph Sands, SJ, director at the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Andrew Hall in Syracuse, New York, draws parallels between the novitiate and academics (something the Society knows a thing or two about). “I would compare entering the novitiate to starting college. I think they’re pretty courageous for it,” he says. “They may be anxious because they don’t know exactly where it leads, but once they get in, they find it a very positive and human environment.”
Typical days at the novitiate consist of classes taught by the director and his assistant (known as the Socius), as well as daily Mass, group prayer and discussion of their spiritual journeys.
As for the work outlined in St. Ignatius’ Constitutions, the novices complete a series of “experiments” to explore their vocations and help them discern the specific ways they might be called to serve the church.
Novices in Syracuse, New York
“The purpose is to find that at the heart of our mission is a call to be with people on the margins, enter the struggles of the world and find the face of Christ,” says Fr. Andrew Kirschman, SJ, novice director at the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. “All these experiences help the novices grow in awareness of Christ laboring with us in the world today.”
Novices also make St. Ignatius’ 30-day Spiritual Exercises silent retreat, which they commonly regard as the most meaningful part of the novitiate.
“It surprises the novices,” says Fr. Sands. “They’re grateful for the way they encounter God’s attention, care and love for them.”
The novices and novitiate team of Haiti
The novices aren’t the only ones on a path of discovery. Fr. Stephen Corder, SJ, novice director at the Jesuit Novitiate of the Three Companions in Culver City, California, has found his duties allow him to view the Society through each novice’s fresh eyes.
“I’m always impressed with their generosity, compassion and desire to walk with people,” he says. “They have a good sense of humor and openness to God’s grace.”
The novices of the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Grand Coteau, Louisiana
In the second year of their novitiate, novices are missioned to an assignment at a Jesuit-run organization, similar to an internship. Called a “long experiment,” this segment of the novitiate lasts several months.
As novices, Jesuits in the U.S. and Canada spend one of their summers at Regis University in Denver at a conference on Jesuit history, delving more intensely into St. Ignatius’ life while meeting their peers at other novitiates.
After two years, the hope is that novices will have become confident in their vocations, nurtured a more intimate relationship with God and developed a profound love for the Society of Jesus. At the end of their time as novices, they profess first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. No longer novices, they are called “scholastics” as they continue to the next stage of Jesuit formation, First Studies, for two years of graduate-level philosophy courses.
Novices in St. Paul, Minnesota
For those considering religious life, whether with the Jesuits or elsewhere, Fr. Kirschman suggests young adults “begin by looking for Christ in the suffering around you.”
“Can you find Christ present in the messiness and brokenness of our world, of our cities and church, of your own heart?” Fr. Kirschman asks. “If so, Christ might be calling you to labor with him as a companion.”
The next step, Fr. Corder advises, is to “pray, let God love you and find a spiritual director you can talk to.”
Above all, Fr. Kirschman says, “Trust Christ … and come and see!”
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit beajesuit.org for more information.