The Jesuits and Me

  • Reflect on my actions
  • Reassess my goals
  • Learn from my mistakes
  • Adjust my course

I have these reminders on a sticky note on my computer so I can see them throughout the day. Especially at the times when I get thrown off track. It might be a little slight distraction, or it could be a new opportunity that has come up. These gentle reminders help bring me back to the things I want to accomplish. Or not. They remind me to make a conscious choice: do I stop and go back to following my plan, or readjust myself and follow a new path?

These reminders are not from the latest self-help guru, but from the 450 plus year old order of the Jesuits. That’s right, a Catholic religious order. When Ignatius Loyola founded the order, he created the most innovative brand of the time. These monks were encouraged, and trained, to look for any opportunity to accomplish their mission: “The aim and end of this Society is, by traveling through the various regions of the world at the order of the [pope] or of the superior of the order itself, to preach, hear confessions, and use all the other means it can…to help souls.”

At a time when other orders were cloistered away, Loyola sent his monks out to the world. Others had a rigid prayer schedule, Loyola knew this would hamper their mission. His monks squeezed prayer time in when they could, or prayed on the run, so they could continue their important work. Other orders tried to win converts by forcing them to adopt their ways. Loyola’s team assimilated into whatever culture they happened to find themselves in. Instead of squelching other cultures, the Jesuits learned from them, and shared their knowledge.

Loyola believed that everyone is a leader. The Jesuits were required to go through rigorous training and education.  Each monk spent time going through Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. By the time they were done, they had a good foundation of self-awareness, ingenuity, heroism, and love. And they were empowered to make decisions on the fly. This was a huge difference from other orders, which had strict hierarchical structure. Each monk was a leader.

This, understandably, caused some problems for the Jesuit community. There were some power struggles. But, in spite of that, it led them to some astonishing accomplishments. They set up some of the best schools in the world. They translated texts from other cultures so that they could be shared and studied. They explored new areas, and added greatly to the knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, foreign languages, and “pagan” religious beliefs. The list goes on and on.

Information for this article is from Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney.