While many have expressed surprise over the election of the first Jesuit pope in history, there seems to be little question as to why Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio selected the name Francis as his title. Jesuits and Franciscans are distinct religious orders within the Church, and the selection of his name signifies his beliefs for the future of the Church. John Allen says the name symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church.” U.S. Jesuit Father Blaszczak believes Pope Francis’s choice shows that reform within the church is “not going to require just philosophical analysis; it’s going to require an engagement with the person of Christ.”
The Pope’s choice of name also highlights the long-standing relationship between the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and Franciscans. How will Jesuit and Franciscan theology and practice influence the future of the Church through Pope Francis? Only time can tell. However, an examination of each order may broaden our understanding of our new pope and his vision for Catholicism in the world of tomorrow.
In this new series, we’ll look at a handful of orders within the Catholic Church, examining what it is that makes each unique. We’ll begin, of course, with the Jesuits.
The Society of Jesus
Founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, the Society of Jesus was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. According to John Hardon, S.J.’s Pocket Catholic Dictionary, the Society had two goals: “to strengthen and where necessary restore the Catholic faith in wake of the Protestant Reformation, and to preach the Gospel in non-Christian lands.”
Originally, the term “Jesuit” was meant as an insult, meaning “one who used too frequently or appropriated the name of Jesus.” Despite the intentions, the members of the Society of Jesus took to the name proudly, and continue to use it to this day.
The largest all-male order in the world, with approximately 19,000 members worldwide, Jesuits take four distinct vows: poverty, chastity, obedience to God, and obedience to the Pope in regard to mission. They also make a promise not to strive for advancement within the church.
Perhaps most well-known for their dedication to education, Jesuits have founded some of the most highly respected universities in the world, 28 of which are in the United States. Georgetown University, Boston College, and Fordham University—not to mention Loyola University—are just a few of the U.S. schools founded by the Society of Jesus.
Along with the order’s founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, some well-known Jesuits include Francis Xavier, Edmund Campion, John Hardon, Fr. James Martin, and, of course, Pope Francis.
Image Books has several titles about or by Jesuits. Check out some of these to learn more!
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola by Anthony Mottola
God’s Soldiers by Jonathan Wright