It generally takes three years of law school to become a lawyer, four years of medical school to become a doctor (prior to residency), and roughly the same length of time to step forward as a candidate for ordained ministry (in most faith communities and religious orders).
Jesuit training is different. It is less a course of study than a journey through several distinct stages of formation, ranging from a two-year novitiate to theological studies to years of fulltime ministry. Through it all, Jesuits immerse themselves in the spiritual and communal practices of their order. They learn to live in God's presence.
For those seeking to be ordained as Jesuit priests, this path of preparation will normally last about a decade. It will last seven or eight years for most Jesuit brothers. That is what it takes to produce men who are trained in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, with the skills to minister to God’s people in a diverse and changing world.
And the training begins only after a period of vocational discernment. A Jesuit spiritual director is involved in helping the young man discern what God is calling him to do, and how best to explore his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Such reflection could open up a variety of possibilities; a calling to Jesuit ministry is just one of them.
At GC 35 (the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus), Jesuit leaders from around the world explained the purpose of this unfolding process. They declared at the 2008 assembly in Rome: "It is therefore essential to give young Jesuits a human, spiritual, intellectual and ecclesial formation as deep, strong and vibrant as possible to allow each of them to achieve our mission in the world with a proper attitude of service in the Church."
As noted in that statement, Jesuits are trained with a clear view toward the needs of the Church as well as the world. At the same time, this formation is unmistakably personal—centered on the gifts and talents of each Jesuit.
There is a common Jesuit expression—cura personalis, translated from the Latin as “care for the whole person.” It highlights the need to nurture people in all of their dimensions—body, mind, and soul. And it leads the Society of Jesus to focus on the unique potential of each member in formation. In the end, a Jesuit is able to serve the Church and foster an interior relationship with Christ, while pursuing his talent as a math professor. Or in any other walk of professional life.
The journey begins informally, in conversation with a vocation director. That sets in motion a process of reflecting on who God is calling you to be.
For more information about becoming a Jesuit in the United States, please visit the Jesuits Vocations website.