“Regency plays a special role in the overall formation of a Jesuit,” wrote former Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, (1983–2008), regarding the formation of members of the Society of Jesus.
Every Jesuit, during his long formation, must go through this period of about two years during which he works in an Ignatian apostolate, discerned with the provincial according to the reality of the young Jesuit, the needs of the province, and what Jesuit formation calls for. “It was one of my best experiences in the Society of Jesus,” says Frantz B. Georges, SJ, who did his regency at the Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada.
This is just one of the apostolates where the regents of the Province of Canada and Haiti can meet. In recent years, Matthew Hendzel, SJ, has been a spiritual director at Loyola House Retreat Centre; Jean Francky Guerrier, SJ, has worked in many apostolates in Haiti (such as the National Office of the Jesuit Migrant Service and the Grand Séminaire de Notre Dame de Cazeau); and Brook Stacey, SJ, has been involved with young people as a teacher of math, physical education, and religion at St. Paul’s High School, as well as an assistant coach for the school’s wrestling team.
But why insert this long period of work between the stages of Jesuit studies? The primary goal of any formation in the Society, explains Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, socius (the superior’s assistant) of the Jesuits of Canada, is the psycho-spiritual maturation of the young Jesuit and the deepening of his relationship with Christ in mission. It is a time to deepen in wisdom — to learn to have a more profound understanding of reality — but also to discover one’s particular gifts.
Regency is the first time a young Jesuit has responsibilities in the Society of Jesus as a full-time member of an apostolic community and a work. In this way, he learns to participate fully in apostolic discernment in common. Hendzel, for example, took part in such a discernment during the first wave of COVID, when the activities of the retreat centre were suspended. Out of that discernment came the proposal to offer online retreats. “It has been a very rewarding experience,” he says.
Regency is the first time a young Jesuit has responsibilities in the Society of Jesus as a full-time member of an apostolic community and a work.
This period of Jesuit formation sheds light on whether the young Jesuit is capable of contributing to community life, Fr. Mongeau explains, but also whether he is capable of living this kind of life. “It’s really a laboratory of real life. And from that, we are able to see whether the Jesuit can bear fruit for his own life as well as for the apostolate, whether he can learn to live and contribute in a fraternal way to the work of an apostolic team.”
Meeting and accompanying marginalized people in a real way are other goals of regency, as Georges explains. “What I really enjoyed about my experience was meeting people. The group meetings, for example, show our human solidarity as well as our sense of fellowship. Each refugee’s story is unique and inspiring. The visits I made to the homes of the refugees also allowed me to feel closer to them. The experience of regency is one of learning and self-giving. Through regency, we share the daily life of the people we accompany. In short, we share their joys and sorrows.”
“The experience of regency is one of learning and self-giving. Through regency, we share the daily life of the people we accompany. In short, we share their joys and sorrows.”
This closeness to people is something that Hendzel has experienced as well: “Whether meeting with people on retreat or individually for ongoing spiritual accompaniment, I have always found it a great blessing to accompany them and share their desire to grow in an ever-deeper relationship with God. I have been continually surprised to discover the ways in which God is uniquely present in the lives of so many people, young and old, from all walks of life.”
Young regents with youth
Teaching is the most well-known Jesuit regency experience, although it is somewhat less so in Canada, according to Fr. Mongeau. Here, too, though less apparent at first glance, the regent discovers an experience of real accompaniment of marginalized people, of those who experience poverty, either economic or otherwise. Stacey explains: “I loved the energy when I worked in a school. There is so much to do and so much life. High-fiving students in the hallways, cracking jokes in class, it all created a fun, positive, and joyful environment. But there was also time for deep discussions. I remember one day when a student came to me to talk about relationship issues he was facing. I appreciated the fact that he felt safe enough to talk to me about such a personal topic. And I was happy to offer him whatever hope or encouragement I could.”
While the regency experience can be lived in various contexts of Ignatian works, many Jesuits have been able to accompany young people in creating a future filled with hope, which requires listening and “a profound interior conversion,” as noted by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ.
Stacey experienced it in a high school, as did Guerrier in Haiti. Guerrier explains, “The regency experience has allowed me to journey constantly with young people and be transformed by their creativity, enthusiasm, and intense faith in a hope-filled future. As a result, I have come to realize that the practice of attentive listening is essential in working with young people. Instead of communicating ready-made formulas to them, it is important to pay attention to their stories, their struggles and challenges, and their desire to move forward on the journey of faith.”
“The regency experience has allowed me to journey constantly with young people and be transformed by their creativity, enthusiasm, and intense faith in a hope-filled future.”
In conclusion, this break from studies to live the Jesuit life to the fullest makes it possible to create bridges between theory and practice. “During my regency, the Ignatian principle of ‘good formation for better service’ became tangible,” Guerrier points out. Stacey adds that “after working in a school for regency, I feel closer to the worries, fears, concerns, and hopes of young people. The abstract learning I had done in the classroom has been brought down to earth, into the real lives of my students. But more than my studies and more than my abilities, I feel that it is my personal testimony that has reached the hearts of my students.” Thus, regency is, indeed, a laboratory of real life.