Jesuits are widely known for their colleges and universities, as well as high schools. And that’s no surprise. Education is a cornerstone of the Society of Jesus, and has been since the late 1540s, when Jesuit schools began spreading through Europe.
But names like “Georgetown” and “Gonzaga” and “Marquette” do not tell a full story of Jesuit ministries. The works are far broader in scope, extending from middle schools in the inner city to refugee camps near Iraq, from retreat houses with an ocean view to parishes next door to college campuses. Jesuits — together with their lay collaborators — are called to these and many other ministries.
In his message to the 35th General Congregation of Jesuits in 2008 (known simply as “GC 35”), Pope Benedict XVI declared: “The Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach.”
During the first days of his papacy, in March 2013, Pope Francis added his heartfelt prayers. The first Jesuit pontiff asked that the Lord “illuminate and accompany all Jesuits” along these paths.
Geographically speaking, Jesuits serve where needs are greatest — From underserved neighborhoods in East Los Angeles to schools in Micronesia. They and their many collaborators are involved in myriad international works through such flagship organizations as the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Spiritually speaking, Jesuits and their friends are ministering to people in the hard-to-reach places of the heart. They are doing so as military chaplains, helping soldiers find meaning far from home; as prison chaplains, accompanying those behind bars in a journey of reconciliation; as hospital chaplains, praying for healing together with patients and families; and in many other pastoral settings.
The followers of St. Ignatius Loyola are also exploring the frontiers of mission and ministry.
“Thus as this world changes, so does the context of our mission; and new frontiers beckon that we must be willing to embrace,” the Jesuits declared at their 2008 General Congregation. This spirit is finding expression, for example, in the recent phenomenon of Jesuit middle schools in hard-pressed urban neighborhoods of the United States. Other examples include interreligious dialogue in countries torn by religious violence, and the struggle for environmental justice.