Society of Jesus (SJ)

Jesuit priests and brothers

sjThe founder of the Society of Jesus was born Inigo de Loyola 1491. His conversion while convalescing from battle wounds set his generous spirit ablaze with God, fanning a deep desire to follow the saints’ pathand to go to Jerusalem. Leaving home February 1922 his pilgrimage at Manresa for almost a yearpeaked his spiritual enlightenment. He noted the lessons God taught him: discerning two different spirits stirring within himself, moderating ascetic practices, and finding God in all things.

Some false starts led him to study in Barcelona and in Paris 1528 with Francis Xavier and Peter Faber as room mates. He won them and four other university students for God’s service by sharing his spiritual experiences. The seven companions bound themselves in Montmartre 15 August 1534 by private vows of chastity and poverty, for mission in Jerusalem or putting themselves at the Pope’s disposal.After ordination Inigo – Latinized Ignatius – and two companions went to Rome November 1537 to offer the priestly services of the ten companions. It became clear to these “friends in the Lord”the papal missions would disperse them.

After communal discernment they unanimously decided to request papal approval as a religious order. Their project was confirmed by Pope Paul III and canonically established 27 September 1540 with a published bull. Ignatius was unanimously voted superior general 13 April 1541 and pronounced vows in the new order with five companions 22 April. With their constitutions adopted in 1554, they called themselves the Company of Jesus based on Ignatius’ deep desire — confirmed mystically as the founding charism at La Storta — to be placed with Jesus Christ the Son of God.

In continuing Christ’s mission the founding fathers were dispersed in Europe doing education, social ministries, and ecumenism. They expanded to new frontiers in the Americas and the East Indies as missionaries. By 1556 when St Ignatius died, there were 1000 members in 76 houses.

As the first Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Goa, India, 1541 as apostolic nuncio. He expanded his mission in Malacca, the Moluccas,and Japan. In journey to Japan Francis heard about Pegu. He wrote Ignatius from Cochin 20 January 1548 requesting for Jesuits to be sent there. The missionary zeal of Francis — who died on Sancian Island 1552 with hopes of entering China —was rekindled by Jesuits likeMatteo Ricci honoured by the Chinese as “the wise man from the West,” John de Britoin India, and Alexander de Rhodes in Vietnam.The aspiration of St Francis — patron of the missions– for Jesuits to be missioned to Pegu in Burma — now Myanmar —materialized in what could be discerned as three waves.

Some 50 years after Xavier’s death, in 1600, Philip de Britto — employed by the Arakan king with rights over Syriam and Pegu —brought a Jesuit John Boves with him, later replaced by Diego Nunes and a companion. Boves and Fernandez worked among the Portugese in Arakan until their death in 1607.Under the king of Ava 5000Portugese garrison were transported around 1613 to Ava. Nunes died along the journey. Patrick Usher SSC— using Jesuit archives in India

— noted that Manoelda Fonseca was “respected by the infidels, revered by the grandees of the kingdom, and regarded as a saint by his fellow captives.”For 39 years Fonseca ministered to the Portugese in Ava and built new churches, assisted by Denis Antunes for eight years and Simon Rodriquez in 1652 who worked in Pegu until 1655.

The second wave of Jesuit presence took place just over three centuries later. The hierarchy petitioned Rome February 1957 for eight Jesuits to run the Regional Seminary of St Joseph for the Union of Burma. By 17 March 1958 Joseph Murphy arrived after his term as rector of Woodstock College, the Jesuit theologate, followed by four priests and three regents. The Jesuits from the Maryland Province began forming 13 students in philosophy 22 May 1958. When the regents returned in 1959 two priests came to teach theology. Other than seminary formation and studying Burmese, they directed the Apostleship of Prayer, the Catholic Teachers’ Guild, and the Young Christian Students; gave retreats; acted as confessors and formators to members of consecrated life; initiated would-be converts; contributed to The Sower; and co-pioneered ecumenical activities. Societal circumstances obliged the six remaining Jesuits to leave Burma by 31 May 1966, with 44 seminarians in different stages of formation.

The current presence of Jesuits happened three decades after the Maryland fathers left. They were invited to Taunggyi around 1999 to start a foundation, teach English to seminarians and students, and form guides for the Spiritual Exercises. The illustrious pioneer Clay Pereira did massive ground work setting up houses for Jesuit candidates at Payaphyu, Gonzaga Institute, and Yangon. Ignatius Wadi was novice master to three novices in 1999 until 2010. Maurus Irsan replaced him and became acting superior to two companions who form candidates and teach English at Gonzaga Institute.

The candidacy programme continued in Yangon 2003, with classes conducted in Mayangone. Increasing numbers led to the founding of Campion Institute 2005. Six Jesuits are missionedin Yangon with Peter Kim Se Mang as local superior who continues the work of forming seminarians. Other members form candidates and religious, teach English to lay students and religious, do social outreach and rehabilitation work, and give retreats.

To date there are 24 candidates in Yangon and Taunggyi, eight novices, and some 30 scholastics doing humanities, philosophy, theology, and regency. Gonzaga and Campion institutes teach some 500 students in English and other subjects with around 40 teachers, and assess the English capability of prospective major seminarians. The desire of St Ignatius and St Francis continues to materialize under very different circumstances. With God’s blessings and guidance that fire would enkindle the scholastics in formation– together with over 18000 Jesuits worldwide — to spread God’s love in areas of greatest need and new frontiers of mission.