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Frequently Asked Questions About the Jesuits - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus

Gratitude Magazine March 2015 Edition

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Jesuits

A. Who are the Jesuits?

The Jesuits are one of the many religious orders of men in the Roman Catholic Church. The more official name is "the Society of Jesus." Thus Jesuits write S.J. after their name.

B. How and when did they come to be Jesuits?

St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) was a Spanish Catholic who after his own deep conversion, gathered nine followers, including St. Francis Xavier (the patron saint of missionaries), to serve the Church. They formed themselves into a religious group in 1534 and offered their service to the Pope. They were officially approved in 1540.

C. Are there Jesuits in Nigeria, Ghana, and any other West African countries?

There are about one hundred Jesuits in Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia, both indigenous and expatriates. There are also Jesuits running schools, parishes, and doing other kinds of apostolates in Algeria, Angola, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroun, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte D'Ivoire; Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mauritius, Mozambique, Republic of Central Africa, Congo, Réunion, and Rwanda. There are also Jesuits in Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Chad, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Although there are relatively no Jesuit presence in some countries such as the Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, these three countries will soon become mission territories under the North West Africa Province.

D. Are there only priests and seminarians?

Although those studying for the priesthood in the Catholic Church are universally called seminarians, the technical name for a Jesuit seminarian is scholastic. In addition to Jesuit priests and scholastics, there are also many Jesuit brothers who are involved in both works of the Jesuit communities and Jesuit apostolates. Jesuits are also assisted in carrying out their ministry by lay collaborators. As at 2004, there were about 20,408 Jesuits around the world.

E. What activities are Jesuits involved in?

Jesuit works are diverse. According to St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, Jesuits must be ready to do whatever is "For the Greater Glory of God." This gives rise to the famous Jesuit motto, in Latin, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, usually abbreviated as A.M.D.G.
Jesuits run more than 400 educational institutions around the world, including for example, 47 secondary schools and 28 colleges/universities in the United States alone. They teach or direct numerous seminaries and theological centres in Rome and around the world. They are chaplains in prisons and hospitals, chaplains to university students and the military. They serve as parish priests and direct retreats and retreat houses. Many Jesuits are involved in communication, through writing, publishing, and working with radio and television. Jesuits publish more than 1300 periodicals, and several books every year.


F. Can a Jesuit become a bishop?

In a few special cases, mostly in mission lands, and by exception, some Jesuits have been asked to serve as bishops. In most recent times the Holy Mother Church entrusted a Jesuit Cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, with the humble mission of serving her as Pope. On March 13, 2013, the second day of the papal conclave, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope on the fifth ballot of the papal conclave. He took the name, Francis. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become Pope of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Thus there are a number of bishops who began as Jesuits, and several Cardinals who are members of the Society of Jesus. 
However, the Constitution of the Society of Jesus discourages Jesuits from nursing any desire to become bishops and even urges novice masters to close the door against any candidate with such ambition. Therefore, under normal circumstances, a Jesuit cannot become a bishop, save for the circumstances mentioned above and when the Pope insists on a Jesuit becoming a bishop.

G. How does one become a Jesuit?

If a young man is interested, he should write to the Vocation Director for advice and assistance:


P.O. BOX 223





P.O. BOX 1054 



vocations /at/

Although applications are accepted all year round, processing an application takes at least a year (in some cases, it may be longer). Thus, those to be accepted into the Novitiate in August of a given year are expected to have sent in their complete application by July of the previous year. A complete application includes: a) A formal application letter; b) Baptismal certificate; c) Academic credentials (WAEC/SSCE) or undergraduate degrees; d) Submission of an essay when requested by the Vocation Director (with two passport photographs with your name written behind it). The process of acceptance into the novitiate includes companionship program, medical tests, and interviews (etc).

H. What else should I do?

In addition to writing, you should pray to God for guidance, to know and do His will. And you should talk with your Parish Priest, or a Reverend Sister, and ask for their prayers and guidance. Since your parents have guided you to where you are, you should also talk with them about your desire, and seek their advice and permission. You should try to find out more about religious life, and the Jesuits in particular, through reading and browsing Jesuit websites on the internet. And of course it helps to meet Jesuit priests, and scholastics, and talk with them about your desire to be a Jesuit priest.

I. What qualifications and qualities are needed?

The young man must be a baptized, practicing Roman Catholic, between 18 and 25 years of age. Academic standards are high, and the person must have 6 credits in WAEC/GCE in one sitting including English and Mathematics, or 8 credits in WAEC/GCE in two sittings including English and Mathematics. Those who have completed or are about to complete their university (or tertiary) degrees in any area are also encouraged to apply and contact the vocation director in Nigeria or Ghana.

J. Any other personal qualities?

We are looking for healthy, interesting young men, who can relate to others, live in community, have a healthy prayer life, are close to the Church, especially through the Eucharist, and who are willing to entrust their life and future generously to God through the Society of Jesus and its Superiors. They must be open, ready, and willing to be assigned to whatever work and location the Superior judges best. They should also show leadership qualities and willingness to face difficult challenges. They must be attracted to working with people in need.


K. What else is involved in becoming a Jesuit?

The applicant will be given an application form to fill out on this website or at the Vocation Director’s addresses above. He must write an essay on his life and vocation -- why he feels called to be a Jesuit. On the basis of these materials he may be referred to the closest local vocation coordinator who works with the Vocation Director. After that, the applicant may be called for interviews. 

L. How do I know if I have a vocation to the Jesuits?

You must be acquainted with, and attracted to the Jesuits and their apostolates, and feel called by God to be a companion in their mission. You should have a great desire to serve God, and you should experience prolonged and intense sense of peace, joy, and freedom when you imagine yourself as a Jesuit. Finally, you must trust the judgment and decision of the Jesuit Superior who, through prayerful reflection, decides either to accept, reject, or postpone the acceptance of the applicant who desires and feels himself called and qualified to be a Jesuit.

M. How many years does it take to become a Jesuit priest?

For most applicants, it will take 12 or more years before he is ordained. This is understandably longer than most other religious orders and diocesan formation in the Roman Catholic Church.

N. That sounds like a long time! Why so many years of training before ordination?

Jesuits are trained to be ready to move into a variety of apostolates, hence the long training. This issue is properly addressed by the link Formation of Jesuits.

O. Is the Jesuit finished with his studies and training after ordination?

The training of a Jesuit may not end with his ordination. An ordained Jesuit may pursue special studies if this training is needed, “For the Greater Glory of God”. For further analysis of how a Jesuit is formed, read the Formation of a Jesuit.


P. What apostolic works do Jesuits undertake in the North-West Africa Province?

As of 2007, we direct three parishes in Nigeria, Christ the King Church at Ilasamaja and St. Francis Catholic Church at Idimu, both in Lagos State, and St. Joseph 's Catholic Church in Benin. In Ghana, we direct St. Anthony's Catholic Church. We also have two high schools, Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja, and St. Francis Catholic Secondary School, Lagos, both in Nigeria. There is a diocesan school, Quaye Nungua Primary and Junior Secondary School, attached to St. Anthony's Catholic Church, and run by the Jesuits in Accra, Ghana. We have one retreat centre in Edo State, Nigeria, and one retreat centre in Cape Coast, Ghana. One Jesuit runs the Catholic Chaplaincy at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH/CMUL) and the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, both in Lagos, Nigeria. One Jesuit serves as Rector at Hekima Theology College in Nairobi, Kenya, while another teaches Scriptures and Old Testament at another theologate-ITCJ- in Abijan. In addition we maintain our Novitiate in Ugbekun Quarters, Edo State, Nigeria.

Q. How do Jesuit priests differ from Diocesan priests?

Both are fully priests in the Roman Catholic Church. The diocesan priest promises celibacy and vows obedience to his bishop, but he is able to own a car and a home; he is also able to assist his family and relatives financially. Most diocesan priests labour in parishes. Their place of assignment is usually in their own particular diocese, perhaps not far from their own home town. 
The Jesuit takes the three vows of religious life: poverty, chastity, and obedience. He owns nothing by himself, but lives a common life with his Jesuit companions. He usually lives not by himself but in a Jesuit community. He most directly obeys his religious superior and receives whatever assignment the local ordinary -- bishop -- of the diocese in which he resides desires that a Jesuit takes up from his religious superior. If he works in a diocesan ministry, he receives his assignment from his Jesuit Superior who works collaboratively with the local bishops in such matters.

R. How do Jesuits differ from other religious orders such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, Claretians, Benedictines?

That would take a long time to answer, as each religious order has its own charism or gift, its particular emphasis and tradition. In general, the Jesuits are known for the intellectual apostalote, retreat ministry and involvement in issues of faith and justice. In the North-West Africa province of the Society of Jesus (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierre Leone, Gambia, Liberia), the Jesuits are involved in education, parish ministry, chaplaincies, and retreat ministry. 
Our spirituality is to be contemplative and active at the same time. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, many fully formed Jesuits take a special vow of obedience to the Pope. Apart from those doing primary evangelization who may be in large cities or in small villages, most Jesuits labour in cities rather than villages or small towns. Jesuits are noted for their obedience, their readiness to move on, to be assigned to wherever their Superior judges to be "for the Greater Glory of God." Besides, unlike other religious groups that have their habits or religious attires with which they are identified, Jesuits have no habit or religious attire that distinguishes them as members of the Society of Jesus, but dress as do the local clergy of the diocese in which they work. Being contemplatives in action, Jesuits are trained to usually do their own private meditation and are not bound to pray the divine office or the Liturgy of Hours in common, as other religious orders do. Another distinguishing characteristic of Jesuits from other religious orders is that, though the Holy Father can appoint a Jesuit as a bishop of a diocese, Jesuits do not aspire to be bishops or encourage any in their company to aspire to be one.

S. Could you say more about the particular Jesuit Charism and tradition?

Jesuits follow the spirituality of St. Ignatius. One way to characterize that is by saying that we are contemplatives in action: we are apostolic in our spirituality, combining and interweaving a life of intense prayer and intense apostolic activity. Through this, the Jesuit seeks to "find God in all things," to use a key phrase of St. Ignatius. Much of our inspiration and guidance comes from the retreat manual of St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises. Twice in their lives, Jesuits make a thirty-day retreat based on this manual. In addition, Jesuits do an eight-day retreat annually.

T. Are there any recent emphases in Jesuit life and mission?

In accord with the direction of the Church since Vatican Council II, Jesuits have been involved in the promotion of faith that is linked with concern for justice. This means ensuring that in all we are involved in, the perspective and needs of the poor and oppressed must be kept in mind. Hence there is a scholarship program for children from poor families to study at our prestigious high school, Loyola Jesuit College. We are also committed to be agents of inculturation, in the words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who was the Superior General of the Jesuits during the Vatican Council II. A practical example of our efforts at inculturation is especially the 10:30am Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Benin City, Nigeria. Jesuits must be men of discernment, that is, constantly open to the movement and guidance of the Holy Spirit in their own lives and apostolic activities, and able to assist laymen and women in discerning or deciding what is God's will for them.


U. How are the Jesuits around the world organized?

A basic unit of government is the Jesuit Province, led by a priest called Provincial. A province may have perhaps 50 or more Jesuits as members.

V. Who is in charge of all the Jesuits?

Jesuits are led by their Superior General who resides in Rome. As of January 2013, he is Very Reverend Father Adolfo Nicolás, the 29th (30th?) successor of St. Ignatius, and he was elected in January 2008. He is elected for life. In a special way he is responsible to Holy Father, the Pope in carrying out his duties as Superior General. In fact, many Jesuits take a special vow of obedience to the Pope, indicating that they will go on mission to wherever the Pope may wish to send them.

W. Have there been any Jesuit saints?

Yes, thanks to the grace of God, we have just mentioned St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. We also have St. Francis Xavier, one of St. Ignatius' companions, and a great missionary to India. All together there are 49 Jesuit priests, scholastics, and brothers who have been canonized. In addition there are 147 who have been declared blessed, which is the stage before canonization as saints. Of these 147 who are blessed, 136 were martyrs  for the faith in Brazil (41), France (27) Britain (17), Japan (33), Spain (5); Mariana Islands (1), Aubenas (2), Mexico (1), India (5), Ireland (2), and Madagascar (2).

X. Have there been any prominent Jesuits in recent years?

Only history can answer that question, but a number of Jesuits have become well known. Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1954) was a French Jesuit who wrote about the links between science and Christianity. Fr. Karl Rahner (1904-84), a German Jesuit, was important in assisting the bishops at the Vatican Council II, and has written thousands of articles and books on most areas of theology. Fr. Walter Ciszek (1904-84) was imprisoned in Russia for more than 20 years. Jesuit friends and relatives thought he had died. Fr. Jon Sobrino and Fr. Juan Luis Segundo are prominent Latin American theologians, who have written important books on theology, justice, and liberation theology in Latin American countries. Fr. Englebert Mveng, S.J. (d. 1995) from Cameroun, was a prominent African artist, theologian, and historian. Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J. (1904-67), an American theologian and expert on church and state, was responsible in large part for the "Declaration on Religious Liberty" issued by Vatican II.

Y. What else do Jesuits do?

The guiding principle of our apostolic activity is the “Greater Glory of God” (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam). Thus depending upon the needs of the Church, and depending upon their own gifts and talents, there have been and are Jesuits who are pastors, musicians, lawyers, charismatic leaders, writers, artists, astronomers, scientists, doctors, retreat directors, and historians. And we should recall that the Jesuits are also the largest missionary order in the Church today, with more than 6,000 members serving in mission lands.

Z. If I have any more questions, what should I do?

Feel free to approach or write to any Jesuit priest or scholastic or brother who will try to answer your questions, or put you in contact with another Jesuit who would answer your questions. You can always write to the Vocation Director at the address listed above.

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North-West Africa Province

P. O. Box 223,

Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria

Tel: +234 907 177 3535


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