First jesuitsThe Society of Jesus, whose members are called Jesuits, was officially born on 27th September 1540, when Pope Paul III approved its establishment as a religious order in the Catholic Church. The first Jesuits, of whom there were 10, had met in Paris where they were studying Philosophy and Theology. They formed a group around St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque nobleman, whose encounter with God led him to help other souls.

St. Ignatius and his companions had intended to go and evangelise the Holy Land. But it proved difficult to make the journey owing to wars in Europe. The companions then put themselves at the disposal of the Pope who soon confided in them work in Rome and throughout Europe.

Perhaps the most important mission at the time was the reform of the Catholic Church. The Society of Jesus came into existence at a time when many Catholics in Europe were attracted by the Protestant reformation spearheaded by Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Jesuits would be instrumental in helping the Catholic Church implement a process of internal conversion. This new religious order played an important role at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and its members went all over Europe preaching, giving retreats and supporting Christians who were in danger of losing their faith.

In this mission of counter-reformation (that is to say, reformation of the Catholic Church from within), the Jesuits were guided by fidelity to Jesus Christ and fidelity to the Pope. Jesuit spirituality is therefore characterised by closeness to Christ and to the Church, by a constant discernment of Christ’s call and by a responsible and free obedience. In everything he does, the Jesuit seeks the “greater glory of God” (in Latin: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam). He tries to find God not only in prayer, but in all things. He considers himself a contemplative in action.

Today there are more than 16,000 Jesuit priests, brothers, scholastics (seminarians) and novices all over the world. We continue to hold true to the original intuition of St. Ignatius and his companions by working in a variety of missions: we give retreats and spiritual direction, we run a number of schools and universities. Many of us work for peace and justice, doing research, advocacy and actively accompanying the very poor, notably refugees with Jesuit Refugee Service. Finally, Jesuits are also engaged in pastoral work in parishes, shrines and chapels.

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