Catholicism 101: How to Become a Jesuit

by Annalise Deal


As students at BC, we’ve all heard stories of Jesuit formation: of Fr. Casey’s quest to meet Maya Angelou, of novices hitch-hiking across the country, panhandling for dinner, and living in countries we couldn’t point to on a map. Myths about the tasks young men who feel called to the Society are given can sometimes seem so ridiculous that I’ve found myself thinking the process of “formation” sounds more like an extended initiation to a Harvard finals club than it does like the path to receiving Holy Orders. But, after some research, one beautiful flowchart, and a helpful list compiled by James Martin, SJ I’ve uncovered some truth about the mystery that is Jesuit formation. So here it is, how to become a Jesuit in 11 steps:



  1. Recognize vocation. This is the most important part of the entire formation process, and the first step of discernment. The vocations website of the Jesuits describes this initial process as hearing, answering, and considering God’s call to enter into the Society of Jesus. During this stage of consideration, men are called candidates.
  2. Become a Novice. Once a candidate decides to respond to his vocation, he enters the novitiate. This is a two year program for men to “pray, work and learn” about the Society of Jesus. During the first year, novices must partake in the “Long Retreat,” a thirty day silent retreat in which they complete the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Novices also participate in a variety of experiments, often including ministering to the homeless or sick, and partaking in a pilgrimage (most of the crazy formation stories come from this part). In their second year, novices are assigned a “Long Experiment” which Martin calls an “extended supervised ministry” often in a Jesuit school. Martin also notes that technically during this stage, novices are indifferent between being brothers (not ordained) or priests (ordained), however if they feel more called towards priesthood, they may become scholastics during these years as well.
  3. Pronounce first vows. At the end of the novitiate, novices commit to poverty, chastity and obedience, which they have already been living during the novitiate. At this point, men promise to “enter the Society fully at the end of formation,” and officially become Jesuits. (Also, at this point the suffix “SJ” is added to their names).
  4. Complete First Studies. The now-vowed Jesuits must receive 1-4 years of education in philosophy and theology, depending on their previous training, while engaging in part time ministry as well. They study either at Fordham University, St. Louis University, Loyola University in Chicago, or sometimes abroad. During this stage, Jesuits can be referred to as either scholastics (future priests) or brothers, depending on which ministry they feel called to.
  5. Brothers move on to specialized training and advanced degrees. Following first studies, vowed Jesuit brothers must receive graduate education in Theology, and often additional advanced degrees in their area of interest. For this reason, most Jesuits have graduate degrees in Theology, and often a masters or doctorate in another field as well. Brothers then enter active ministry at a Jesuit apostolate (any placement operated by the society).
  6. Scholastics complete regency. Regents participate in 2-3 years of full-time work in Jesuit ministry. This can be at a high school, college or university, or elsewhere.
  7. Scholastics move on to Theology studies. They must complete 4 years of graduate level theology studies. This training is more intensive than the brothers’ as it is geared towards preparing the Jesuit for ordination. During the first two years while awaiting ordination, scholastics are called ordinandi.
  8. Scholastics are ordained to the transitional diaconate. In their second year of Theology studies, Jesuit scholastics officially become clergy.
  9. Transitional Deacons are ordained to Priesthood. Following the third year of Theological studies, after six months to a year in the diaconate, Jesuits are ordained to the priesthood. Newly ordained priests typically spend a year in ministry at a Jesuit parish.
  10. Priests and Brothers become Tertians. After an undefined period of time following advanced studies or ordination, Jesuit brothers and priests enter a year-long renewal of spiritual training called tertianship. They again have to complete the full spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. At the end of this year, all Jesuits may apply to take final vows.
  11. Pronounce final vows. Final vows are not actually an action on the part of the Jesuit brother or priest, rather the essentially serve as the ratification of the First Vows they took by the Society of Jesus. The Superior General invites the Jesuit to reaffirm his First Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience thus marking the end of formation. Some Jesuits also make a vow to obey the Pope regarding missions at this time as well.

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