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Jesuit & Catholic Terminology

Many organizations and professional groups develop their own special nomenclature or vocabulary to describe key principles and processes. Over the centuries, the Jesuits have created a number of unique terms; the list below includes some of the most commonly used ones. 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, S.J.

A.M.D.G.: 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

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. Lay organizations, such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, have also adopted this spiritual stance.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, S.J., 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, S.J.: 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.

Jesuit reading a bookDiscernment
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, S.J.)

Father General
The Superior General of the Society of Jesus is addressed as Father General, a term that hearkens backs to the early military career of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society.

First studies
A two- to three-year period suring which Jesuit scholastics, as Jesuit seminarians are known, study at various universities while also serving the ministry needs of a local church.

First and Final Vows
The 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 10 to 12 years and involving several stages: novitiate, first studies, regency, theology studies, and tertianship. 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.

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.

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 they include] a deep personal love for Jesus Christ.”
--Society of Jesus, General Congregation 34

A regional organization for the care of Jesuits within its boundaries and for the governance of affiliated ministries and work, a province usually comprises several contiguous states. The California Province is one of 10 comprising the federated body, the United States Assistancy.

A Father Provincial leads each province, overseeing the spiritual needs of Jesuits and matters of governance, aided by a group of consultors and consultants. In the California Province, Jesuit and lay assistants are responsible for a variety of programs, from advancement to secondary education and international ministries.

A type of superior, the rector is appointed by Father General. Rectors are usually the superiors of larger communities. A superior can be appointed by the local provincial.

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

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

A Jesuit seminarian 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.

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.

Theology studies
Jesuits usually spend four years studying theology.