By Doris Yu
September 3, 2014 — It’s a journey that can take anywhere from seven to 13 years. It involves a 30-day silent retreat, years of study and service to the poor and marginalized — in homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons. Becoming a Jesuit priest or brother is a long, thoughtful process, and whether you’re Pope Francis or one of the 34 men who entered the Society of Jesus this month in the U.S. and Canada, your life as a Jesuit begins as a novice.
In late August, Jesuit novices arrived at novitiates in California, New York, Louisiana, Minnesota and Montreal for a rite of passage known as Entrance Day. For the next two years, the novices will complete this first step of Jesuit formation, a process St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, laid out in great detail in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. They will pray, work and learn about God, the Jesuits, each other and themselves.
First- and second-year novices of the California and Oregon Provinces of the Society of Jesus at the novitiate in Culver City, California.
A diverse group, this year’s novice class ranges from newly graduated students to seasoned professionals, who hail from Canada, Taiwan and across the U.S.
“I decided to be a novice because I've fallen in love with the Society,” says Kieran Halloran, 22, a novice from New York, who attended the Jesuits’ Xavier High School in New York City and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “After knowing and befriending many Jesuits at school, I knew that this was a group of guys I wanted to be a part of and people whose faith and love I wanted to emulate.”
The novices will work alongside a novice director and a Socius (a Latin word meaning “comrade” or “ally”), another Jesuit who assists the novice director. The novice director and Socius will have regularly-scheduled conversations with the novices, guiding them through the formation process and getting to know each novice well.
Typical days at the novitiate consist of classes taught by the director and Socius, daily Mass, group prayer, speaking with one another in small groups about their spiritual journeys, helping with chores around the house, social time and unstructured time.
“The novitiate is structured so a novice really slows down, so he doesn’t have the 24/7 stress that seems to be so much a part of our culture,” says Jesuit Father Dave Godleski, Secretary for Formation and Jesuit Life for the Jesuit Conference. “It’s meant to give him opportunities to pray, to be with other novices in community, just sitting around talking with each other, playing an instrument, playing sports, watching TV once in a while, going out to a movie.”
“I’m looking forward to the peace and calm that comes from being in novitiate, to slow down from the typical busyness of life to focus on where God is in my life and where he is calling me,” says Halloran.
During the first year, novices study the history and founding of the Society of Jesus and go on the 30-day Spiritual Exercises retreat, a silent retreat created by St. Ignatius. “It’s a fantastic experience, probably the most powerful experience of my life,” says Fr. Godleski. “It was very rewarding but it wasn’t easy. You’re praying in silence for 30 days, letting the Lord work on you. You have some warts that you have to let the Lord work on, but you also receive much consolation.”
“It’s a blessing and a privilege to have the opportunity to spend hours each day in prayer,” says Brendan Gottschall, 24, a New Jersey native who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and worked as a consultant before becoming a Jesuit novice.
Novices complete a number of “experiments,” which might include experiences as prescribed by St. Ignatius — working in Jesuit ministries, serving the poor and marginalized and traveling overseas to experience the Society in another country. They also complete some form of a pilgrimage. These experiments often are times of challenge and growth and assist in the discernment of the man’s call to the Society of Jesus.
“I walked from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Notre Dame, Indiana,” recalls Fr. Godleski. “We were given about $5 and not much else. I had to trust that I could find people to give me food and things to survive. I stopped at parishes and met the parishioners, and people would give money out of their generosity.”
All novices go on an individualized experiment in their second year that lasts about a semester. The novice director will send each novice somewhere he is needed that will benefit that particular novice’s further formation in the Society — working at Jesuit high schools, colleges or retreat houses and living in a Jesuit community.
At the end of their second year, novices profess First Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The novices of the St. Paul, Minnesota, novitiate at their First Vows ceremony. Photo by Jesuit Father Don Doll.
“The novitiate is a special time. Community life and being with all the other novices was great. But it’s also work. You’re challenged in the novitiate. They want to see and test your talents and abilities, and there’s a lot of interior work that you’re doing — work which affects you at the spiritual, psychological and emotional level,” Fr. Godleski says.
“I feel called to become a novice because it is an opportunity to develop my relationship with God in a very intentional way,” says Gottschall. “I see it as a time set aside to nurturing that relationship through prayer, service and learning so that I can come to a better understanding of God's calling in my life.”
Read more about Jesuit formation on the vocations website at jesuitvocations.org, and learn more about each of the men who has answered God’s call to ministry by clicking here as the Society celebrates, with gratitude, the start of their journey.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.