Magazine
Fr. Tom Pipp, SJ is novice director at the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado in St. Paul

And as you have freely given me the desire to make offering, so also may you give me the abundant grace
to fulfill it.
— From the Jesuit first vows formula
The Road to Vows

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    
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.

Friendship with Jesus compels each novice’s vow to live in poverty. Within complex Jesuit institutional commitments, he will own nothing, receiving all he has from the Society and serving Jesus, who lives in the poor. In vowing chastity, he offers his tremendous affective energy to Christ for the service of humanity. Through obedience, the novice will go wherever his superior, who represents Christ, sends him. The mission often involves making the best of difficult and unexpected situations. 

By the time a novice kneels at the altar to pronounce vows, he is prepared. As he speaks the final words of the vow formula to God, he does so with complete trust: “And as you have freely given me the desire to make offering, so also may you give me the abundant grace to fulfill it.” It is only in our loving God that this Jesuit life can be lived with authenticity and peace.


Click here for the Fall-Winter 2016 Jesuits magazine index.




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Sioux Spiritual Center
The Sioux Spiritual Center, nestled amid the hills of western South Dakota, is the heart of the Diocese of Rapid City’s efforts to develop native clergy and leadership on the reservations.