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Jesuit Formation Process

The training, education, and preparation of Jesuit brothers and priests is a rigorous process involving a number of stages spanning 10 to 12 years. Currently, about 50 Jesuits in the California Province are at various stages of their formative journey.

Novitiate. The novitiate is the first stage of a Jesuit’s formation, or maturation, as a religious and a minister. From St. Ignatius we learn that a man's generosity to enter the Society of Jesus springs forth from his deepest desires, which are placed in him by God to lead him to God. In the novitiate, those desires—now expressed as the choice of a religious vocation—deepen in prayer and service to others and become clearer through the continual discernment of God’s personal invitation. The California Province novitiate, called Ignatius House, is located in Culver City near Los Angeles. In the novitiate, novices experience a school of prayer and Jesuit spirituality over a two-year period:

  • learn the Jesuit “way of proceeding” by entering into the life of the Society
  • study the history and foundational documents of the Jesuits
  • by living the vowed life, come to an interior understanding of its gift and challenge
  • make the Spiritual Exercises in a silent 30-day retreat
  • serve the Church in a variety of apostolic placements to grow in familiarity with God and knowledge of oneself.

To read about the men who recently entered the novitiate, click on Meet Our Novices.

The novitiate concludes with the novice pronouncing his First Vows--perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Click the image below to see a video of the men who professed their First Vows in 2012.

 First studies. This period, usually lasting three years, integrates intellectual and spiritual growth. Jesuits may enroll in Fordham University in Bronx, N.Y., Loyola University Chicago, or Saint Louis University; some scholastics study abroad. Some men may finish work on a bachelor’s degree, while others work on a master’s degree in philosophy, and all begin theology study. While study is their principal apostolate during these years, scholastics also serve the ministry needs of the local church, perhaps assisting in prison chaplaincy or staffing a homeless shelter.

Regency. During this two- to three-year period, the Jesuit scholastics work in ministries while living in community. Typically, Jesuits are assigned to teach at high schools or universities, but some might work in parishes or other ministries. Regency is all about finding fulfillment in the life and work of the Jesuit community.

Theology studies. At this stage, Jesuits pursue a Master of Divinity degree, usually enrolling at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California, or Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in Massachusetts, or perhaps going abroad to study. Jesuit brothers study a course in theology that prepares them for the specific ministry they will enter, while Jesuits entering the priesthood prepare for ordination. Following this period, some Jesuits go on to special studies in their academic or professional field.

Tertianship. After three to five years in active ministry, a Jesuit spends several months in a tertianship program in preparation for his Final Vows. St. Ignatius called this period of prayer and reflection the “school of the heart.” A tertianship may take place anywhere in the world. The tertian, as he is called, makes the Spiritual Exercises again in another 30-day retreat, studies the Constitutions of the Society, and spends some time in a ministry different than his typical work. He also spends time, often with a spiritual director, in seeking a deeper understanding of his life as a Jesuit.

Final Vows. After tertianship, the Superior General of the Society invites men to pronounce their Final Vows. In addition to pronouncing perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Jesuits make a fourth vow of obedience to go wherever the Pope finds them needed. Final Vows bring the Jesuit into full membership in the Society of Jesus and conclude the formal process of formation. In another sense, though, their formation never ends since Jesuits commit themselves to continual education and spiritual renewal in dialogue with their superiors.  Click here to read a reflection by Fr. Ron Garcia (New Orleans province) of his recent profession of final vows.