Men considering entering, or applying to, the Society of Jesus are called candidates. Upon acceptance of their application, they join the Society as novices. This is when Jesuit formation begins. Not all Jesuits become priests. Some choose to be brothers but their formation follows a similar pattern.


Novitiate: This is a two-year programme of prayer, work and learning about the Society of Jesus, which includes making the Thirty-Day Retreat, i.e., the full Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola, in their first year. Novices live in a novitiate under the direction of a novice master. They also engage in a variety of “experiments”, that see them working in various ministries, usually with the poor or the sick, sometimes in a less developed country. In their second year, novices go on a long experiment, spending several months in a Jesuit apostolate. In some provinces the novices also make a pilgrimage across the country with little money. At the end of his novitiate, a Jesuit pronounces his First Vows (of poverty, chastity and obedience).

First Studies: The Jesuit, who is now a scholastic, and this is when many study philosophy for three years.

Regency: The Jesuit works full time in a Jesuit ministry for generally two to three years, but possibly longer depending on the man’s provincial. During this time, they are called regents.

Diaconate: Jesuit scholastics are ordained to the transitional diaconate (rather than the permanent diaconate for married men). He is now a deacon.

Priesthood: The ordination of a Jesuit to the presbyterate (priesthood) usually takes place within a year of becoming a deacon. He is now a priest, and only now is called “Father”. This, however, is not the end of formal Jesuit formation.

Tertianship: This final stage in Jesuit formation comes after the Jesuit has worked for several years after completing his studies (for the brother), or after his studies and ordination (for the priest). The Jesuit, now called a tertian, undergoes a six to nine month of spiritual training during which he makes the full Spiritual Exercises again. He does so under the guidance of his tertian director or tertian master.

Final Vows: After completing tertian ship and subject to the approval of his provincial and the Jesuit superior general, the Jesuit is invited to take final vows. All make three vows (of poverty, chastity and obedience, re-affirming the First Vows) and some make a fourth vow (of special obedience to the Pope with regard to missions). This is the end of the formal formation period. From start to finish (novitiate to final vows) it can take as many as 15 to 20 years.