The Jesuits: a History from Ignatius to the Present

by John W. O’Malley, SJ

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



I have enjoyed the spirituality of the Jesuits since our theology professor talked about St. Ignatius. The Examen of Conscience gives rhythm to my day so when I read about the Jesuits it is like having a wonderful cup of coffee in a relaxing setting. Not what they have to say is relaxing but challenging that needs process and discernment. In the United States the Jesuits have since 1971 been engaged in new ventures to provide quality education for youths form disadvantaged backgrounds. This led to proliferation of this kind of school so that in 1996 Chicago opened a school called Christo Rey intending to prepare youths for post-secondary education. It was another success, which resulted in Cristo Rey Schools in virtually every large American city. And again Chicago is the home of the latest Jesuit innovation in education to help those who most need it and who cannot help themselves. It is Arrupe College of Loyola University, which accepted its first class only in 2015, it is a two-year fully accredited college program that prepares financially disadvantaged students to move on, well prepared to make good in their final two years of college. It prepares financially disadvantaged students to move on, well prepared to make good in their final two years of college. They hold an 82% retention rate.

When the ten founders drew up the Formula, they seemed to envisage the Society as an updated version of the so-called mendicant order each as the Dominicans and Franciscans founded in the thirteenth century. They described themselves as engaging primarily in the same ministries of preaching and hearing confessions. They like the Dominicans and Franciscans, saw these ministries as almost by definition itinerants and without geographical limits, which this implicitly entailed overseas missions which drove them to include the fourth vow of travel to their other 3 of poverty, chastity and obedience. They were missionaries. The Jesuits now had a ministry that made them distinctive. They threw themselves into it unreservedly. By the time Ignatius died more than thirty schools were in operation, principally in Italy but also in other Countries. Ten years later there were thirty in Italy alone but others in France, Germany and elsewhere. Two for instance, had just opened in Poland. The Jesuits discovered that the schools gave them access to a population, such as the parents of their students that might be attracted to their churches. Some of the schools developed into civic institutions as well as sources of vocations.

In the middle of the text, we see pictures of Jesuit institutions such as Georgetown, Belarus and several others, we also see some of the superior generals including Arrupe. There is also a picture of Catherine the Great who refused to suppress the Jesuits and played a vital role in maintaining their training. Throughout the book there are many stories about the missionary work of the Jesuits and their willingness to assist in funding their schools through their efforts. Jesuits resist categorization. They are priests but also astronomers. They pledge obedience yet are encouraged to take initiative. They pronounce a solemn vow to be missionaries but even the largest percentage of those today are resident schoolmasters. Although they have a reputation for cultivating the high born and have been the confessors of kings, they have consistently devised means of reaching every stratum of society, with a special concern for the most wretched. The author gives us further reading in regard to Jesuits, anti-Jesuit writing, Jesuits and politics, schools, science and arts. This is a wonderful book on the lifetime of the Jesuits and ways they have improved society and the Church and of course each other!