Jesuit Formation 2.0: The Future of the Jesuit Province of Canada

September 12, 2019 — The Jesuit Province of Canada, in collaboration with the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, is currently planning the renewal of its formation process. Young Jesuits in the new province will be formed in such a way that the different learning components will be even more integrated. They will thus be better able to respond to the mission of the Society today as well as to the Universal Apostolic Preferences.

Studies in the Society have an apostolic purpose, they aim to better serve the mission entrusted by God to the Society and to each Jesuit. Jesuit formation, detailed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola himself, is sometimes updated, as it is at the moment. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, who cooperates on these changes, helps us understand the details.

Formation 2.0 in North America 

Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ at Martyrs' Shrine In 2014, Fr. Nicolás, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, published a letter calling for a renewal and review of the intellectual formation of Jesuit scholastics and brothers. The seven Jesuit conferences then got together to adapt Father Superior’s guidelines to their own reality. In North America, representatives of the various Jesuit provinces launched an in-depth, three-phase study in 2015, to understand what worked and what needed to be improved in the formation of young Jesuits. All the significant players (persons in charge of formation, Jesuits in formation, involved colleagues and friends) were consulted twice before the results of these exchanges were duly analyzed by a small group of people, including Fr. Gilles Mongeau.  

We found that all in all, our formation, in its essential elements, is quite good even when considering the changes requested by Fr. Nicolás. However, we have 11 recommendations which we must act upon. Therefore, we must rethink our formation, especially the first studies, and make some changes to theology. Indeed, there is now a better understanding that theology makes it possible to both grasp the context of the mission and to deepen the content of the faith in order to form leadership in the Church.

We drew 4 significant guidelines for first studies from these 11 recommendations:  

  1. Well integrated intellectual studies where all disciplines talk to each other (a mix which translates into a commitment to reality);  
  2. A spiritual deepening; 
  3. The creation of communities that would also serve as places of intellectual collaboration (so that the scholastics can this type of collaboration within their community life);  
  4. A real and intimate presence in the world of the poor and marginalized where Jesuits feel comfortable in friendship with those on the margins, being present in their world and letting them be present in ours.

Fr. Mongeau goes on to give an example of the changes that could be made, drawn from his own experience: 

When I was superior of Cardoner House in Toronto, I started sending all of the Jesuit scholastics to a parish instead of assigning them an individual apostolate. From there, they would work in groups of two, for example at a soup kitchen. Furthermore, once a month, we did a communal discernment: what did we learn from the context in the apostolate? What questions does it raise? How can studies help answer these questions? For example, we were able to discover together that there was real poverty in our neighbourhood, but hidden, like elderly people who have a house, but no money. Such work carried out together by the scholastics created a feeling that the community was a place to learn, to grow together in spirituality. We succeeded in integrating the corporate, intellectual, social and spiritual dimensions. And this created a strong community bond.  

Several elements of the new formation are already in place, but full implementation for first studies is planned for September 2020. At that time, there will also be a first-year program of first studies in Quebec City, in French! The other three places are in the United States or Paris.

Charism, context, content and competence: the "4Cs" at the heart of the new formation of the Society of Jesus in Canada  

Typically, Jesuits must go through five stages to complete their formation. The new formation process, as revised according to Fr. Nicolás’ letter, highlights four essential elements integrated within each of these steps and on which the growth of the Jesuits will be evaluated in its spiritual, intellectual and social dimensions. All elements are present at all times during the process but one in particular guides the others at each step.  

These elements are the “4 Cs.” First, one must properly understand the context of the mission in order to appreciate the complexity of the human predicament, to analyze the structures and evolutions in society and culture, to understand how different thinkers and cultures sought to answer fundamental questions and dimensions of human existence, and finally to acquire a methodology to continually reflect upon the changing contexts of the mission.  

Then, one must dig into and explore the contents of faith, which includes studying the Word of God, systematically interpreting the way in which the mysteries of faith are linked to one another (as well as to human existence and history) and entering into a dialogue with other ecclesiastic communities, various religious traditions and the secular world.  

The third “C” represents the ministerial competencies, such as the ministries of the Word (preaching, social communication), the Sacraments (celebrations and liturgy) and interiority (spiritual guidance, pastoral activities), as well as Ignatian leadership or even collaboration.

Finally, the last competence is the deepening of the Jesuit charism in the individual, which includes, among other things, studying the history of the Jesuits, reading the fundamental documents of the Society and of its great thinkers as well as reflecting in a theological way about the elements of the Society's identity and its way of proceeding.

Between Interiority and Openness 

The fruit of these studies and the acquisition of the four competencies must be integrated into personal and apostolic discernment. The new Jesuit formation thus allows for a good tension between critical appropriation of the Jesuit tradition, rigour, personal responsibility with an openness and humble attention to the Other, including continuous reflection and collaboration. In short, a tension that allows Jesuits "to increase their capacity to fulfill the mission of the Society of Jesus today: the service of faith, the promotion of justice, dialogue with other cultures and religions", according to the letter of Father Nicolás; and in addition, to integrate the process according to the four Universal Apostolic Preferences.  

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