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Jesuit Terms

As is common practice for many organizations, the Jesuits have also developed some of their own unique terms to describe key concepts and processes. Here is a list of some of the more commonly used ones. We thank the Jesuits of Wisconsin and California who compiled many of the following definitions. For a comprehensive guide to Jesuit terminology, see Do You Speak Ignatian?: A Glossary of the Terms Used in Ignatian and Jesuit Circles, by George W. Traub, SJ.


Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (Latin), meaning "For the greater glory of God." It is the motto of the Society of Jesus.


A mission endeavor or activity.


Related to spreading the Gospel message.


Jesuits can choose to be priests or brothers. Both groups of men take the same vows and live and pray in a religious community. Priests are ordained and administer the Sacraments and celebrate Mass. Although brothers do not feel called to the life of a priest, they participate fully in the work of the Society of Jesus, whose mission is "the service of faith and the promotion of justice."

Contemplatives in action

A phrase that embodies the creative tension between Jesuits’ full embrace of concrete action and their attentiveness to where God may call them next. In The Active Life, Parker Palmer writes, “Contemplation-and-action are integrated at the root, and their root is our ceaseless desire to be fully alive.”


Defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “a radical reorientation of the whole life away from sin and evil, and toward God.” Bernard Lonergran, SJ,writes, “It is not the substitution of a new self-image, no matter how upright, for an old one. It reaches down into the roots of an individual’s affections, images, dreams, and choices….”

Cura personalis (Latin), meaning care of the whole person

This fundamental value of the Society of Jesus involves three concepts, according to Brian McDermott, SJ: Treating people as individuals and honoring their unique worth; caring for the “whole” person (including physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health); and taking into account people’s backgrounds, including their family life, nationality, and culture.


A process of discovering God’s direction and guidance in the concrete reality of our day-to-day lives. . . Discernment is a prayerful “pondering” or “mulling over” of the options facing you. Your goal is to understand them in your heart: to see them, as it were, as God might see them. In one sense, there is no limit to how long you might wish to continue this. Yet as you continue the process, some options should of their own account fall by the wayside while others should gain clarity and focus. It is a process that should move inexorably toward a decision. (Brother Charles J. Jackson, SJ)

Father General

The Superior General of the Society of Jesus, who resides in Rome, is addressed as Father General.

First studies

A two- to three-year period during which Jesuits in training to be priests study at various universities while also serving the ministry needs of a local church.

First and Final Vows

first-vowsThe novitiate (see term below) concludes with the novice pronouncing his First Vows--perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. After completing tertianship (see term below), the Superior General of the Society of Jesus invites men to pronounce their Final Vows--perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, plus a fourth vow of obedience to go wherever the pope finds them needed.


The education and training of Jesuits, called formation, is a multifaceted process, typically taking 15 to 20 years and involving several stages: novitiate, first studies, regency, theology studies, some years of ministry, and tertianship. For Jesuits becoming priests, the important moment of priestly ordination, might occur typically 10-12 years into their training. The goal of formation is the holistic integration of education, experience, and values so that a Jesuit priest or brother will be prepared to serve where the need is greatest and where he can make the greatest contribution. A “formed” Jesuit is one whose life is grounded in his relationship to Jesus; freed by his vows to serve; committed to partnering with laypersons; immersed in our contemporary culture; and dedicated to the faith that does justice.

General Congregation


The highest authority in the Society of Jesus is the General Congregation, an assembly of Jesuit representatives from all parts of the world. A general congregation is always summoned on the death or resignation of the administrative head of the order—called the Superior General—to choose his successor, and it may be called at other times if circumstances warrant. A smaller congregation of worldwide representatives meets every three years to discuss internal business and to decide the need for a general congregation. Through its four-century history, the Society has convened only 35 general congregations.


The first three letters, in Greek, of the name Jesus. These letters appear as a symbol on the official seal of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.


A modern theological concept, which expresses that God is already present and active in a culture, and so our presentation of the Gospel to any given culture should be allowed to flourish in the “soil” of that culture.


A member of the Society of Jesus.

Laity (layperson, laymen, laywomen)

The people of a religious faith as distinguished from its clergy.

Magis (Latin), meaning more

The term traditionally used by St. Ignatius and the Jesuits to suggest the spirit of generous excellence--striving for the greater good--that drive our ministries.



This two-year period is the first stage of a Jesuit's formation as a religious and a minister. Novices learn about the Jesuit "way of proceeding" (see term below) by entering into the life of the Society of Jesus.

Our way of proceeding

“Certain attitudes, values, and patterns of behavior join together to become what has been called the Jesuit way of proceeding. The characteristics of our way of proceeding were born in the life of St. Ignatius and shared by his first companions.” Jerome Nadal writes that“the form of the Society is in the life of Ignatius [and it includes] a deep personal love for Jesus Christ.”
canada-map--Society of Jesus, General Congregation 34


The Society of Jesus is divided into geographic and administrative units called “provinces.” While a Jesuit joins the whole worldwide Society of Jesus, the normal context for his life and work is his Jesuit province.


A Father Provincial leads a Jesuit Province, in our case the Jesuits in English Canada, overseeing the spiritual needs of Jesuits and matters of governance, aided by a group of consultors and consultants. Jesuit and lay assistants are responsible for a variety of programs, from advancement to secondary education and international ministries.john-obrien


A two- to three-year period during which Jesuit in training (see term below) work in ministries, often teaching in high schools or universities, while living in community.


Religious priests, brothers and sisters belong to communities, such as the Society of Jesus, which are typically guided by a particular mission or spiritual tradition. Religious, including Jesuits, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; they are under the authority of their local superior and provincial. Jesuits take an additional vow of obedience to the Pope, placing themselves at his disposal for mission.


Traditionally, Jesuit apostolic ministries are grouped into one of three sectors: higher education, secondary and pre-secondary, and social-pastoral.


A Jesuit in training who has taken First Vows (see term above) and declared his intention to seek ordination as a priest.


The executive assistant or “second-in-command” to the provincial at each province’s administrative center, commonly known as the curia.

spiritual exercises

(small s and e) Any of a variety of methods or activities for opening oneself to God's spirit and allowing one's whole being, not just the mind, to be affected. The sp-exercisesmethods might include vocal prayer, meditation, journaling or other kind of writing, reading of scripture, painting or molding with clay, playing or listening to music, working or walking in the midst of nature.

The Spiritual Exercises

(capital S and E) An organized series of spiritual exercises put together by St. Ignatius out of his own personal spiritual experience and that of others to whom he listened. Ignatius set all of this down in the book of the Spiritual Exercises as a handbook to help the guide who coached a person engaged in "making the Exercises."


After three to five years in active ministry, a Jesuit spends a period of time in a tertianship program ranging from nine weeks over two summers to nine months to prepare for his Final Vows (see term above). The tertian, as he is called, spends time, often with a spiritual director, in seeking a deeper understanding of his life as a Jesuit.


The Crusader

OpenSpace (Apr 2018)

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