Formation Process

Why is it that there are so many myths and misunderstandings about how Jesuits are trained?
Is it true that their studies are longer? Do they have a minimum age for ordination?

Anyone interested in joining the Jesuits should get in touch with the local vocations promoter.

Those making enquiries about religious life are actually quite numerous, so if you are one such person and are reading this, do not hesitate to get in touch… you are not alone, and you will be under no obligation! If the vocations promoter thinks that an enquirer would make a good and happy Jesuit, the man concerned starts the candidacy.

Duration: about 2 years, depending on the person

Candidates continue with their normal lives, but keep in regular contact with the Jesuits through the vocations director and by visiting their local Jesuit community from time to time. In addition, each candidate is encouraged to make an annual retreat of about five days, sometimes together, sometimes tailor-made to suit the individual.

Those candidates who discern that they are serious about entering the Jesuits make an official application to join. There follows a series of interviews. A psychological test, and a full medical examination are required. Four Jesuits each interview the man and then come together to advise the major superior.

Often a female co-worker from one of our apostolic works is asked to interview the man as well to give an alternative point of view about his potential. After the interviews the man may be accepted, turned down, or asked to reapply after a year or two.

This process can appear tough, but just as the Jesuits expect the candidate to be serious about a life-long commitment, so the candidate can expect that his life and future happiness are being taken very seriously by those who assess him.

Duration: 2 years

Candidates who pass their interviews enter the novitiate for two years. It is a time of spiritual development and of community life, based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and is a privleged time to appropriate the Jesuit charism. The appropriation of the Jesuit charism includes both the study of Jesuit history through a historico-critical and sapiential reading of foundational Jesuit documents concerning our Institute, including the Constitutions, the Spiritual Exercises, recent General Congregations of the Society; and key thinkers who have written on Ignatian Spirituality; as well as theological reflection on fundamental elements of the Society’s identity and way of proceeding. Novices are given several placements which expose them to different kinds of work and which help them to discern what God is asking from them. These placements may include things like teaching, hospital work, working with refugees, and a pilgrimage. After the two years, novices take first perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Some novices feel called to study for the priesthood, others to be Jesuit brothers. A brother’s studies after novitiate are not necessarily the same as those for the trainee priests, but they can be just as challenging and specialised for his area of work. The novitiate is in Lusaka, Zambia.

Duration: at least 3 years

Those who make their vows then go to studies. These usually start with three years of philosophy, although some get to study a variety of courses at this time. This first section of studies is often done in South Africa or Zimbabwe. The purpose of these studies is to gain an appreciation of the context of mission and involves all that allows Jesuits:

  • To understand and appreciate the complexities of the human condition (arts and humanities)
  • To analyze structures and developments in society and culture, especially those that are relevant to faith, justice, religious pluralism, and ecological issues (social and natural sciences)
  • To understand, through an encounter with important texts, how thinkers and cultures have sought to respond to fundamental questions and dimensions of human and social existence (philosophical studies)
  • To acquire a methodology for continually reflecting on changing contexts of mission

Duration: at least 2 years

In the middle of studies there is a period of pastoral work which Jesuits call regency. This is designed differently for each individual, but it is hoped to help the Regent discover or develop his Ministerial competencies for his later apostolic life, which can include, among others, those for

  • ministries of the Word: preaching, social communications
  • sacramental ministry: presiding, liturgy
  • ministries of interiority: spiritual direction, pastoral counseling
  • educational ministries: education, pedagogy
  • leadership and management
  • skills for adapting to technological and social change
  • collaboration
  • language skills

Duration: at least 4 years

Now follows four years of theology. Ordination may follow immediately after theology, although some are asked to delay this date until all their studies are over. This can be done in South Africa or anywhere else in the world. The study of Theology involves appropriating in a deep way the content of our faith and involves:

  • The study of the inspired Word of God and the rich and living tradition of teaching and theological reflection of the Church
  • Initiating a systematic understanding of how the mysteries of faith relate to one another and to human existence and history.
  • Dialogue with other ecclesial communities and religious traditions, and with the secular world and mindset.

Duration: specific to the individual and the area of study he is missioned to complete.

If a young Jesuit shows promise in any area of study, he may be sent to get a professional qualification either before or after theology, or even after ordination. Others may not study for a post-graduate degree, but may be asked to acquire practical skills to assist in their future ministry.

Duration: about 1 year

After studies and a few years work experience (and after ordination for those who are ordained), Jesuits do their final year of formation called tertianship. During tertianship Jesuits once again make the Spiritual Exercises and study the constitutions of the Society of Jesus. After tertianship, when judged right by the Society, the Jesuit takes final vows.

All of this looks very heavy to many young men who are thinking about vocations… they cannot see themselves studying for such a long time! It is important to remember, however, that the study is broken up into different sections and is done in various places, so it does not become too heavy or boring.

The Society of Jesus is a religious order. Once a young Jesuit has made his first vows, he is considered to be part of the Order, not just a priest-in-training, so he should not be in a rush to get ordained. His study, pastoral work, and contribution to community life are viewed as part of the corporate mission.