The Society of Jesus, the largest Roman Catholic religious order, whose members are called Jesuits, was founded by Saint Ignatius Loyola. Noted for its discipline, based on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, and for its lengthy training period of as much as 15 years, the society is governed by a general who lives in Rome. Jesuits do not wear a special habit and are not subject to local ecclesiastical authority. Professed members are bound by a vow of obedience to the pope.
The Jesuits began as a group of seven men who as students in Paris took (1534) vows of poverty and chastity. Ordained as priests, they placed themselves at the disposal of the pope, Paul III, who gave formal approval to the society in 1540. Ignatius became (1541) its first general. The order grew so rapidly that at Ignatius's death (1556) the little band had expanded to nearly a thousand persons.
From the first, the Jesuits concentrated on foreign missions, education, and scholarship. Saint Francis Xavier, one of the original seven, was the first Jesuit to open the East to missionaries; Matteo Ricci and others followed at the court of China. Jesuits established missions throughout Latin America and founded a model commune for Paraguayan Indians. A remarkable account of the Jesuit mission to North America can be found in the Jesuit Relations (1632 - 73).
When the Counter Reformation was launched, the Jesuit order was its driving force. During the Council of Trent, several Jesuits, notably Diego Lainez, served as theologians. The English mission, a bold attempt to reclaim England for Catholicism during the reign (1558 - 1603) of Elizabeth I, was led by Edmund Campion and included the poet Robert Southwell. Jesuits established schools in almost every important European city and were leaders in education until the 18th century. Members of the society taught the sons of leading families and served as spiritual advisors to kings.
Because of the extent of the Jesuits' influence, powerful forces opposed them - forces composed of such unlikely allies as Blaise Pascal and the Jansenists, Voltaire, the Bourbon monarchs of France and Spain, and certain cardinals at the Vatican. These forces were instrumental in bringing about the suppression of the society (1773) by Pope Clement XIV. Among the members of the order at that time was John Carroll, who later became the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States.
The Jesuit order was reestablished (1814) by Pope Pius VII and resumed its work. Jesuit schools and universities, such as Georgetown, Fordham, and Saint Louis in the United States, were opened. In Europe, Jesuit traditions of learning were continued by the Bollandists, who were charged with compiling the lives of the saints; the Jesuits also published several periodicals and journals. Members of the order were in the forefront of many social and theological movements; several others undertook scientific pursuits, such as the study of earthquakes. Among noted modern Jesuits are the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, the paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, John LaFarge (1880 - 1963), who worked for interracial justice, and the theologian John Courtney Murray.
Here is another tidbit of Jesuit history taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica about some general controversies surrounding the Order.
Among the repercussions of the controversy over Chinese rites was an intensification of the resentment directed against the Society of Jesus, to which some of the other movements mentioned above also contributed. The widespread support enjoyed by Jansenism was due in part to its attack on the moral theology associated with the Jesuits. Pascal's Lettres Provinciales, although placed on the Index in 1657, voiced an opposition to Jesuit thought and practice that continued to be read throughout the century that followed.
The political role played by members of the Society most probably evoked the campaign to suppress it. The Portuguese crown expelled the Jesuits in 1759, France made them illegal in 1764, and in 1767 Spain and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies also took repressive action against them. But the opponents of the Society achieved their greatest success when they took their case to Rome.
Pope Clement XIII is said to have replied that the Jesuits "should be as they are or not be at all" and refused to act against them. But his successor, Clement XIV (1769-74), whose election was urged by the anti-Jesuit forces, finally did take action. On July 21, 1773, he issued a brief, Dominus ac Redemptor ("Lord and Redeemer"), suppressing the Society for the good of the church. Frederick II of Prussia and Empress Catherine II of Russia-one of them Protestant and the other Eastern Orthodox-were the only monarchs who refused to promulgate the order to suppress the Jesuits when it was issued. In these lands and in others the Society of Jesus maintained a shadow existence until, on Aug. 7, 1814, Pope Pius VII restored it to full legal validity.
Important numbers explaining who are the Jesuits:
The year in which the Society of Jesus was founded.
The date the first Jesuit school in the United States was founded: Georgetown Academy. There are now 28 major universities and 54 high schools nationwide. The Jesuits land holdings are extensive throughout the world.
The total number of Jesuits worldwide on January 1, 2004. The Society of Jesus is the largest religious order of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Jesuit Conference sponsors two theological centers-Jesuit School of Theology Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif. and Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.-that prepare both religious and laity for ministry in the Catholic Church. Within that collaborative setting, the Society prepares its own scholastics for ordination to the priesthood.
The religious vows that Jesuits commit themselves to observe: poverty, chastity and obedience. Some say the top 2 per cent of Jesuits take a secret blood oath or a secret fourth vow, pledging allegiance to Lucifer. This blood oath has always been denied by the Jesuit hierarchy.
10 & 1
The number of provinces in the United States. Although each province has its own administrative headquarters, the 10 provinces are organized to promote common goals and oversee national projects. The Jesuit Conference offices in Washington, D.C. provide liaison service among the ten U.S. provinces and various national associations and works. The Conference offices also serve as a direct communications link between U.S. Jesuits and the international headquarters of the Society in Rome.
Leadership of the Jesuit Conference rests with a national board made up of the ten U.S. provincial superiors and the Jesuit Conference president, who is elected by the provincials. Assisting the president are an executive secretary and national secretaries for Jesuit formation, financial resources, social ministries, international and refugee ministries and communications.
The average age of Jesuit scholastics worldwide.
The average age of all Jesuits worldwide
The number of General Superiors in the history of the Society, beginning with its founder St. Ignatius Loyola. The General Superior lives in Rome and is immediately accountable to the Pope. Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, a Dutch Jesuit who worked for 25 years in the Middle East, was elected the 29th Jesuit General in September, 1983 by Jesuit delegates to the 33rd General Congregation from all the Society's provinces and vice provinces. A General Superior is elected to serve without limit on his term of office.
The number of Jesuit provinces, along with 13 dependent regions, that make up the basic organizational unit of the Society of Jesus. Each province is headed by a provincial superior who is appointed by and reports directly to the Society's General Superior. Jesuit provinces are grouped into eleven regional "assistancies," each with an "assistant" to Father General in Rome.