A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order which was established in 1534. The Jesuits are among the most active Roman Catholics, with ministries on every continent except for Antarctica. They engage in a wide range of activities, from working on social justice issues to providing education and training to aspiring priests. Membership in the Society of Jesus is restricted to men, although women can serve alongside the in organizations like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC).
The founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, was a knight before he founded the organization in 1534. He incorporated many of his experiences as a warrior into the founding precepts of the society, stressing the idea of creating an organization with a strong central base of power and a highly mobile, adaptable membership. The Jesuits have displayed a remarkable ability for adaptation and adjustment over the centuries since the establishment of the Society of Jesus. The endurance of this religious order seems to suggest that St. Ignatius may have had the right idea.
In 1540, the Society of Jesus applied to the Pope for approval, and the organization was given the blessing of Paul III. St. Ignatius of Loyola and his fellow founders were ordained as priests, and the Jesuits began to expand and grow from this point forward. Today, in order to join this society, a candidate must undergo a long “formation” process in which he is consistently challenged and encouraged to explore to confirm that he really wants to join the order.
The Jesuits are famous for their involvement in early settlement of Asia and the Americas. Their priests were sometimes on the ground before other explorers, and they rapidly spread Christianity to many regions of the world. Their involvement in international affairs became controversial at times, leading to a brief suspension of the order in 1773, which was reversed in 1814.
Today, the Society of Jesus is probably most famous for its role in education. Jesuit educational institutions for people of all ages can be found all over the world, offering a very high quality of education to students. Jesuits are also involved in active missionary work, and many of them have become passionate advocates for social justice, with service to the poor being a critical aspect of the Society of Jesus. Many also work as researchers, historians, and of course, priests.
The Jesuit commitment to faith is often celebrated in the Roman Catholic community, as are the services which they perform not just for Roman Catholics, but for all people in need. One of the major initiatives of the Jesuits in the 21st century has been the revitalization of the Church and the Catholic faith, with priests working to address issues facing the Catholic Church while continuing to advocate for the poor and needy of the world.