Above: Jesuit novices at the novitiate in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Banner: Seven novices entered the Jesuit novitiate in Syracuse, New York.
By Doris Yu
September 9, 2015 — This fall, 45 new novices in the U.S., Canada and Haiti are entering the Society of Jesus, beginning the same journey Pope Francis did 57 years ago.
Prior to entering the Society, they lived, worked and studied around the world. Some were musicians, teachers, military officers or scientists, and a number have completed multiple advanced degrees. Now, they come together in their commitment to love and serve the Lord as Jesuits.
The novices are learning to live in a community of their brothers, learning about the history of the Society, learning to settle into the rhythm of daily prayer, learning about themselves and learning to understand what God is calling them to do with their lives as Jesuits. To do this, they will work in Jesuit ministries, serve the poor and marginalized, make a pilgrimage and complete a 30-day Spiritual Exercises retreat.
Jesuit formation can take anywhere from seven to 13 years. For their first step — the next two years — these men will live together at novitiates in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Quebec and Haiti.
So what’s it like for a novice when he first arrives at the novitiate? For Eric Immel, SJ, who entered in 2011, the experience was more low-key than expected. “There’s something really exciting about the process of beginning life as a Jesuit, but the reality is I walked through the door, and nothing that incredible happened.”
Instead, says Immel, God and the Jesuit superiors at the novitiate in St. Paul, Minnesota, gently guided him through the novice formation process, which includes “experiments,” experiences that are part of the detailed plan for Jesuit formation designed by St. Ignatius, founder of the Society.
Typical experiments include teaching at a Jesuit school and serving the sick and elderly at a hospital. Though these experiments may be difficult, St. Ignatius meant for the novices to become free of anything that keeps them from following and serving God.
“If something is going to be preventing you from meeting people and from doing your ministry, you need to let go of it,” says Fr. James Martin, SJ, recounting his novice director’s advice.
“The last thing I want to do, I said, is work in a hospital. I didn’t think I could stand that. And the way to let go of it, in this case, was to experience it,” Fr. Martin says. “And now I can go into hospitals. Imagine a priest who was so unfree that he couldn’t set foot in a hospital.”
During their second year, the novices embark on a pilgrimage experiment, which challenges them to trust fully in God. Details for the pilgrimage journeys vary from province to province, but novices generally are sent out with a one-way bus ticket, little or no money and the clothes on their back, and are expected to return within a few weeks to a month.
“One of the basic thrusts that Ignatius had for his novices when he sent them out with no money was: ‘God will provide.’ And how God did provide for me. Whether it was a ride when I was hitchhiking, food when I was hungry or a place to lay my head at night, the Lord always delivered,” says Fr. Dick Perl, SJ, one of the first Jesuits to revive the practice of the novice pilgrimage. For his pilgrimage in 1968, he made his way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and returned to St. Louis on his own, over the course of 10 weeks.
Through hands-on exploration, the experiments help novices and their directors learn about how they might serve the Society and others.
“As novices, we were taught that our deep longings are important to notice,” says Fr. Martin in his book “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.” Part of Ignatian spirituality, discernment is the process of decision-making in the Society and helps determine where a Jesuit may end up.
“A young Jesuit who dreams of working with the poor and marginalized, or studying Scripture, or working as a retreat director, will be encouraged to pay attention to his desires. Likewise, Jesuit superiors reverence these desires when making decisions about where to assign a particular Jesuit,” Fr. Martin explains.
The entire novitiate experience is designed to help the novices affirm their vocations, develop a more intimate relationship with God, grow in self-awareness and nurture a deeper love for the Society. Jesuit scholastic Garrett Gundlach explains that during the second year of the novitiate “we answered basic questions like ‘How do I feel wearing the Jesuit duds every day?’ ‘How am I going to get to work?’ ‘What am I going to do during the work day?’ ‘How am I going to feel as I enter into the role of a Jesuit?’”
The novices also start to ask the question: “Do I want to do this with the rest of my life?” If the answer to that question is “Yes,” says Gundlach, a novice professes his First Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the end of the two years.
Learn more about each of the men who has answered God’s call to ministry by clicking on their photos in the right column.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.