Phoenix 101: What does it mean to be a Jesuit priest?

Courtesy of Katie Wall

Although Loyola is a Jesuit university, some students don’t know who the Jesuits are or what they do. Students often hear about Loyola’s Jesuit identity, but don’t fully understand how it impacts the university. The Phoenix spoke with a Loyola Jesuit and the director of Campus Ministry to better understand the Jesuits and their role on campus.

Who are the Jesuits?

A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order which includes priests and brothers — men in a religious order who aren’t priests. St. Ignatius Loyola founded the order around 500 years ago, according to the Jesuits’ website.

The Rev. Michael Christiana, S.J., is one of the 79 Jesuits who live at Loyola. Most Jesuits at Loyola work as chaplains, professors and administrators, according to Christiana. More Jesuits live at Loyola than at other Jesuit universities, such as Santa Clara University, which houses 47 Jesuits, according to its website. This could be because Loyola is one of the places Jesuits come to study philosophy, Christiana said.

More than 16,000 Jesuits work throughout the world, according to their website. Although Jesuits can choose from many careers, most are priests and teachers, and others are lawyers, doctors and astronomers, the website said. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to serve as the pope, according to their website.


What is the Jesuit mission?

The Jesuit mission is heavily focused on public service and justice, according to the website.

To Christiana, being a Jesuit means serving others and helping them recognize God’s role in their lives.

“Right now, in the current climate, I really feel like my role is to try to be a reconciler,” Christiana said. “My role is to be a sign of God’s presence and God’s love in the world. We have to confront the ocean of anger and rage and hatred with an ocean of compassion.”


What does it mean to be a Jesuit university?

Loyola is considered a Jesuit university because its educational methods reflect the mission of the Society of Jesus, according to Lisa Reiter, director of Campus Ministry.

Non-Jesuit Catholic universities draw inspiration from other areas of the Catholic Church, Reiter said. For example, Dominican University focuses on the Dominican Catholic which values art, so its education is heavily focused on the arts and spoken word.   

Jesuit education includes faith in God, service, leadership and global awareness, Loyola’s website says.

Reiter said Loyola students are first exposed to these ideals at orientation during sessions on Jesuit values and a unity gathering when students hold candles representing different values.


How does someone become a Jesuit?

Finishing Formation — the process of becoming a Jesuit — can take eight to 13 years, according to Christiana said it took him 11 years to finish Formation.

He said the process is long because the Church believes Jesuits should immerse themselves in the community.

Jesuits come out of their Formation with two master’s degrees from Jesuit universities, Christiana said.

After the initial application process, Christiana became a Novice — a person interested in becoming a Jesuit. Christiana said he lived in a community for novices, called the Novitiate, for two years.

While in a Novitiate in the suburbs of Detroit, Christiana learned the basics of being a Jesuit and participated in ministry experiments, which included work in a local hospital. Christiana also went on a 30-day silent retreat in Massachusetts.

At the end of his time at the Novitiate, Christiana pronounced his first vows and officially became a Jesuit.

The next step of Formation, “First Studies,” is when most Jesuits study philosophy, according to

During the third step, called “Regency,” Jesuits work in different Jesuit institutions, Christiana said. Jesuits study theology during the fourth step, called “Theology Studies.”

During the final step, called “Tertianship,” Christiana was ordained as a priest. After working full time as a priest in Indianapolis, Christiana finished Formation by studying the Jesuit constitution, participating in another 30-day silent retreat and taking his final vows.


What do Jesuits at Loyola do?

Along with their career responsibilities, Jesuits at Loyola lead Mass, guide confessions and help people with spiritual exercises, according to Christiana.

“Being a Jesuit keeps you busy,” Christiana said. “It’s all good work. It’s like you’re always a Jesuit and you’re never just a private person. There are positives, but you have to make sacrifices sometimes.”


Can women become Jesuits?

While St. Ignatius was still alive, two women joined the Society of Jesus, according to Reiter. St. Ignatius later asked for them to be released from their vows because they couldn’t commit to the traveling required of Jesuits, Reiter said.

The Society of Jesus hasn’t allowed women to join since then, but separate female religious orders were created based on Jesuit teachings, according to the Jesuits’ British website. One example is “Daughters of the Sacred Heart” which runs Sacred Heart, an elementary school in Rogers Park, Reiter said.


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