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By Grace Rice

A vocation to the Society of Jesus is unique. Saint Ignatius of Loyola set out to create a religious order that was different than the monastic and mendicant orders of his time. Additionally, St. Ignatius formalized the training, as he described the process of Jesuit formation in the Constitutions. As the Jesuits began to educate others and set out to spread the word of God across the globe, it was imperative that they were equipped to do so, just as St. Ignatius himself had gone back to school in order to be of greater service. At the University of Paris, St. Ignatius became acquainted with the men who would become the first companions, and in 1534, at a small chapel in Montmartre, the men pronounced vows of poverty and chastity and promised to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Midwest Jesuits First Vows 2020Seven Midwest Jesuits pronounced first vows on August 7 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Flash forward almost 500 years. The Society that group of men founded has become the world’s largest religious order, with over 16,000 priests and brothers, known for its focus on education, frontier mission work, and social justice. On August 7 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, seven Midwest Jesuits—Emmanuel Arenas, Philip Cooley, Patrick Fisher, Alexander Hale, Kevin Karam, Justin Prom, and John Stein—pronounced their own first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.


The vows came after two years as novices, where the men further discerned their vocation and were introduced to Jesuit life. At first vows, Jesuits affirm their desire to continue the lengthy process of formation. At this year’s Mass, Provincial Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, said in his homily, “By pronouncing these vows you’re going to make yourself publicly available for the people of God, to help them on their journey home to God.” At first vows, Jesuit brothers take on their title as a vowed brother in the Society, while those who will go on to be priests become “scholastics.” All of the men proceed to first studies, typically a three-year period of graduate course work in philosophy and theology at a Jesuit university, where many will obtain master’s degrees.

Father Mark Scalese, SJ, superior of the first studies program at Loyola University Chicago, describes the men coming out of the novitiate into first studies as “on fire.” He says, “They had a very good experience of those two years in the novitiate, where they really come to know themselves and to love Jesus, the Church, and the Society of Jesus.” In addition to their coursework, during first studies Jesuits begin to grow into the kind of life they will have for the rest of their time in the Society, learning to live in a community, without a prescribed day-to-day routine. “They begin to learn how to take responsibility for their own prayer life when we don’t have a schedule that says this is when you pray,” Fr. Scalese says.

Although brothers and scholastics will ultimately take on different ministries, as brothers will not be ordained, the trajectory of their formation looks very similar these days. However, it wasn’t always that way; at one point, many brothers had roles as grounds keepers while priests went on to pursue advanced degrees.

Brother Jerry Peltz, SJ, who now serves as minister at the Creighton University Jesuit community, entered the Society after volunteering at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He interacted with the Jesuits working on the reservation, and, seeing what they did, found his own vocation: “One thing led to another. It seemed to be a good fit. It led me faith-wise to commit to a lifelong experience serving the Church and the Lord.” When Dr. Peltz entered in 1978, he was the first brother to enter in a while. “There was no formal program,” he says. He joined the novitiate with the scholastics and carved his own way, going on to teach high school math at Creighton Prep and Red Cloud before getting a graduate degree in secondary school administration. As for the different places and roles his career as a Jesuit has led him to, Br. Peltz says, “It’s been exciting.”

Brother Ken Homan, SJ, joined the Society 10 years ago, and he now serves as chair of the Jesuit Brothers Committee of Canada and the USA as he pursues his Ph.D. in history at Georgetown University. Brother Homan decided to enter the novitiate after two years at Creighton. He found himself called to share Christ with others, and at the novitiate he discerned that God wanted him to be a brother. “Part of your discernment during the novitiate is being open to this, possibly being a brother. And so, I just had this real feeling of yeah, I was called to be a Jesuit, but I don’t feel called to the priesthood. A brother makes much more sense for me,” Br. Homan says. Since the novitiate, Br. Homan’s formation has largely mirrored that of the scholastic, although the areas of study are slightly different.

Ten years is typically what people think of for Jesuit formation. First studies is followed by regency, where Jesuits spend two to three years working full time at a Jesuit apostolic work. Regency is followed by theology studies, where Jesuits spend three more years taking graduate coursework. The scholastics are ordained after 10 years, and brothers generally move to full-time ministry as well at that point too. But the processes not totally over. Some years later, sometimes over a decade later, Jesuits take part in tertianship, where they complete their formation of prayer, guidance, and studies, preparing for final vows. Some refer to tertianship as “the school of the heart.” By pronouncing final vows, the Jesuit reaffirms his first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Father James Martin, SJ, explains, “In the first vows you are promising to enter the Society; in the final vows the Society is now ratifying that offering.” At this point, a Jesuit is “fully formed.”

There are certain easier, faster ways to be a priest or part of religious life thana Jesuit formation. To be called to the Society of Jesus is, as its motto attests, to be called to set the world aflame, for the greater glory of God.

Click here to view the PDF of the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Jesuits magazine.

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