by Fr. Tom Pipp, SJ
Before pronouncing first vows, Jesuit novices make a triduum, a three-day period of prayer, in preparation for a lifelong commitment to God in the Society of Jesus. On this retreat, novices are asked to write out the vow formula they will pronounce. The formula, inspiring and prayerful words from the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, must be written in three copies, in black ink, in cursive, and on special lined paper, with no cross-outs. Novices often laugh at themselves during this process. Some have not written in cursive since grade school. Some forget instructions and write outside the margins. They make mistakes and have to start over — again and again.
Yet, for all the struggle, they complete the writing. And it is from one of those sheets of paper that the man reads his vows, giving his life and glorifying God in his self-donation as a Jesuit.
During the novitiate, the two-year program of formation prior to first vows, novices engage in experiments, or experiences, that were fundamental to St. Ignatius and the first Jesuits. Like the vow formula, novices make mistakes and often must begin again. But there is great joy in experiencing the “firsts” in Jesuit life — living with fellow novices, giving homilies, putting on clerics, and serving in a school, hospital, or prison.
Of all of the novitiate experiments, making the Spiritual Exercises, a 30-day retreat, stands out. The novice learns silence and deepens his relationship with Jesus Christ. In discipleship, Jesuit life finds its focus, and in Jesus, the novice realizes he is loved, redeemed, and being transformed into a lover of all humankind.
The nine Midwest Jesuits who pronounced first vows at Saint Thomas More Catholic Community in St. Paul: (left to right) James McGivney; Thomas O’Donnell, IV; Pierce Gibson, IV; James Kennedy; Jack McLinden; David Inczauskis; Michael Bartlett; Christopher Williams; and José “Chuy” Camacho. Click here for a gallery of photos from the 2016 First Vows Mass.