How to be a Jesuit? – Learning by Osmosis

How to be a Jesuit? – Learning by Osmosis


As I mentioned last week, I’m helping out at the Living Theology course in Liverpool for this week. My job description as described by one of our Jesuit brothers, Ken Vance, is to be like Polyfilla” – filling in cracks, doing whatever needs doing at a given moment, and so ensuring that everything runs smoothly. Surprisingly it doesn’t involve much photocopying 🙂 .

 One question that a Jesuit novice gets asked a lot is:

“How many years is your training”? (they usually mean until priestly ordination)

My usual reply: “on average 10 years”

“Wow, that’s a long time! … why so long”?

“You could be a surgeon in that time”

 I think that used to be my trend of thought also, especially during the first months of the Novitiate. During the pilgrimage I had much time to reflect on this question. Why is formation so long? Why am I submitting to such a long process? I guess it’s because becoming a Jesuit is a bit like, as the popular expression says, “learning by osmosis”. One cannot simply learn to be a Jesuit by being taught and given a copy of the Jesuit Constitutions. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of thinking, moving, acting, being. This type of “way of proceeding”, as it’s termed, can only be assimilated by gradual absorption, mingling, and by conscious and unconscious observation. A bit like learning a new language – immersion in the environment is the best teacher.


It reminds me of taking music exams (abrsm) when I was younger. Along with many other students worldwide, I would spend sometimes one or two years learning three exam pieces, along with some technical exercises (scales) and some aural exercises. I always found it a bit strange that we spent all this time preparing just to spend 10-15 minutes in the exam room. Does 15 minutes really make you a pianist? I think that most people would agree that it is the journey which matters, the preparation, learning by listening to other pupils play and by being around musicians. A classroom or teacher can never teach a person all that they need to know; some is learnt unconsciously.


So, I guess I was conscious of this while attending a few of the workshops here and watching several of the older Jesuits and lay people present during this week so far. It was refreshing to listen to them present and think “I would like to be like that in the future”! One does not become a Jesuit or good at a particular skill overnight. It takes time. Be patient, as I will try to be as I continue on the long and ongoing road of Jesuit formation. Have a great week!



4 thoughts on “How to be a Jesuit? – Learning by Osmosis

  1. I like this post. It’s about formation and that which plants the seed of wanting to be formed. I work in a university and over the past few years this once accepted mission of higher education has been steadily eroded as the quest to impart specific skills applicable to a notional workplace has taken precedence. Everyone should have the opportunity to enter a kind of formation – many people still do, but Henry Newman’s message that an education should embrace the whole person, the entire being is sadly ignored today. I’m no traditionalist but the Jesuit message here is sound, as your post makes clear – we are granted a lifetime to observe and digest those experiences which make us who we are – it never stops. Thanks for the post, at the grand old age of 45 reading this encourages me!

  2. Thank you very much. I’ve learned a lot.

    Learning by osmosis. Filling in the cracks- and letting God be God from the inner-self. A life time journey.

    God bless you,

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