Zimbabwean and East African Novices making their vows at the end of the novitiate

^ These young Jesuits (now known as 'scholastics') are currently studying at Chenai, India

The Novitiate is the first formal stage of Jesuit formation and normally lasts two years.  In the Zimbabwe province, we combine our novitiate with the province of Zambia/Malawi, so our novices are sent to Lusaka for these first two years of formation.

This stage of formation focuses primarily on helping the novice to come to a deeper knowledge of God, of himself, and of the Society of Jesus. This is achieved through a number of different activities that constitute the highly structured daily timetable of the novitiate. 

These include about two hours of individual and community prayer each day, as well as a weekly session of individual spiritual direction and helpful personal advice from the Novice Master.

The novice also learns, from the Novice Master, his assistant, and visiting teachers, about the history of the Society of Jesus, Scripture, important Jesuit and Church documents and decrees, and any other topics related to Jesuit life and work. 

There is also time for reading about the history of the Society of Jesus, the lives of Jesuit and other saints of the Church, and other inspirational characters who have made an impact on the Church and the world.

Then there is time for mental relaxation through sports and working in the garden.

Central to the novitiate experience is the month-long retreat that each novice undergoes.  This is a very special, silent retreat lasting 30 days, and split into four sections, with a day of rest and relaxation between each section. 

During this retreat, the novice experiences the full Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.  As a fruit of his own conversion experience, St Ignatius developed a series of topics for meditation, contemplation and reflection. All these topics are based on Scripture, especially the gospel story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  But in the midst of these are some very challenging special meditations, where Ignatius asks the individual to use his imagination, and to see and hear Jesus speaking personally to him. 

During this retreat, the novice is invited to make his own the fundamental dynamic of St. Ignatius’ own conversion, and experience himself as unconditionally loved by God our Father, yet also a sinner, forgiven, and now called to be with Christ on mission. In the process of this retreat, and subequent novitiate experiences, the novice is tasked make use of St Ignatius' rules for the Discernment of Spirits, and so discover whether he is being called to become a Companion of Jesus in the Jesuit way of life.

^ Novice during his hospital experience

Two other important processes which happen during the two year novitiate, are when the novice is sent out for a month to experience life serving God's people.  This may be a period of working in a hospital, or a home for the handicapped, or with the poor, with refugees, with the elderly, or some other context which will help the novice to discern whether the Jesuit way of life is really God's call for him.

At the end of these two years, should the novice be judged by the Novice Master as suitable to continue on the path of Jesuit formation, he is invited to profess simple perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Society of Jesus.

Presentation of Jesuit Constitutions by the Provinical during the vow ceremony

^ these three from the West Africa Province made their vows at Arrupe College, Harare

Profile of the Jesuit Novice at the end of the Novitiate (by Fr General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ,)

“At the end of two years it can be expected that the novices will have acquired an initial, but tested and authentic, co-nnaturality with our way of proceeding. 

"Love for the person of Jesus is the central, all-embracing aspect of our Jesuit life.
"Such love becomes apparent in:

  • Availability,
  • Active indifference ('to whether we be rich or poor, honored or dishonored, have a long or short life – provided I promote the service of God and my salvation'),
  • Generosity and constancy in sharing community chores,
  • Creative solitude,
  • Constructive and joyful community life,
  • The ability to communicate and share the experience of faith and life,
  • Acceptance of our present-day mission,
  • Love of the Church here and now (holy, yet sinful),

The self-denial which frees us to go beyond personal likes and desires. 

"These are some key indicators of the Society of Jesus' charism, which will show whether the novice has begun to adopt it as his own.

"These attitudes presuppose that the novices will have acquired sufficient self-knowledge and inner freedom, to allow them to make a definitive decision for God and the Society of Jesus, vouched for by the Novice Director.  

"An unmistakable sign of the requisite freedom is the transparency with which they manifest their personal experience to the Novice Director and share it, to some extent, with their companions. 

"What is required is an absolute clarity, a transparent loyalty, shaping every attitude, guiding every relationship with brother Jesuits or with superiors. This is what begets genuine mutual confidence, the indispensable foundation of Jesuit life for all, but especially for the novices.

"This confidence and transparency are essential if we are to reach an inner certitude that the path of the Society of Jesus is the will of God, because ‘the greater the clarity, the more stable will each one be in his vocation, and the better will the Society of Jesus be able to discern whether one should stay on for the greater glory and praise of God our Lord.’

"It is obvious that those who have not shown to have made progress in this transparency, and are not likely to grow in it after the novitiate, cannot be allowed to make their vows.

"Already in these first years of formation the novices can be expected to begin acquiring what can be called ‘Jesuit culture’, that is, a combination of knowledge, thought and behaviour which is part of our way of proceeding.   To this end they will have to know the history of the Society [especially that of their own province or region] and the lives of our prominent Saints and Blessed, especially that of St Ignatius. 

"Some of the values and attitudes which constitute this ‘Jesuit style or culture’, to be inculcated from the novitiate are:

  • Discretion, the ability to behave appropriately, in a variety of situations and with all sorts of people,
  • Friendship open to correction,
  • An instinctive disposition to keep our problems and differences within the Society and never to air them in public,
  • Readiness to defend each other in the face of attacks or unjust criticism.”

[Fr General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ, The Formation of Jesuits, General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Rome, 2003, pp. 25-27]

^ Zimbabwean Jesuits immediately after after the vow ceremony in Lusaka, with Fr Provincial

At the end of the two-year novitiate programme, those novices who are accepted by the Provincial into the Society profess simple perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and then return to Zimbabwe to move on to the next stage of their formation – normally the study of philosophy and humanities at Arrupe College in Harare.

The Vow formula at the end of the Novitiate

From General Congregation 34
Excerpts from Complementary Norms of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus on

The Training of Novices

44.  The noviceship is for formation as well as probation, a time when the grace of vocation must be cultivated and bear its first fruits.

45. The apostolate must be the guiding principle in the formation of our men; so their entire training right from the noviceship should be understood and realised as a process of gradual integration into the apostolic body of the Society of Jesus, as apprenticeship for mission.

^ Novice teaching hearing impaired children

46. Vocation must be tested through various experiences, which are conceived by St Ignatius as the distinctive feature of the noviceship.  They should place the novices in situations where their true self is revealed, as well as their capacity to assimilate the spiritual traits of our vocation.

In the formation of novices, the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius play the leading role, for they are the chief and basic item in the experiences.  They must be well prepared, then made at the most suitable time, and presented with the full impact of their interior dynamism.

47. In the apostolic context of the Exercises, novices must learn how to be at home with God when praying; the daily devotional practices should aim at growth in personal love for Christ, at ease in finding God everywhere and resting in him always. They also need help to appreciate the complementarity of the various means proposed to them in the Constitutions, such as the examen, methods of prayer, meditation, reading.

48. All the novices hould be led deeper into the Mystery of Christ, and acquaintance with the sources of the Society of Jesus' spiritual tradition and manner of life, which are most evident in its history and the example of our saints.

From the very beginning, all must be taught about the religious and apostolic character of our one vocation, and the alternative ways of sharing in the one and only mission of the Society of Jesus, according to each one's call to be a priest or brother.

49.  A selfless attitude will find ready expression in the quiet and unassuming acceptance of the demands of daily life ….. The novices must also learn the principles and practice of disciplined and simple living.

50.  The experience of community should build up a fraternal spirit, and foster the affective maturing of the novices.

51.  Human qualities must be assiduously cultivated, for they can render our apostolate more fruitful and our religious life more satisfying; such are a kindly disposition, openness, strength of character and firmness of purpose, an abiding concern for justice, sympathy and respect towards those of other faiths, politeness, and the like.

52.  Novices should be encouraged, with delicate sensitivity, to assume responsibilities, so as to facilitate their growth in spiritual maturity and a sense of freedom in their vocation.

(In this website we use the term 'experiences', rather than 'experiments' as found in official Jesuit documents.  Equally, we specify 'the Society of Jesus' rather than 'the Society'.  This is in an effort to make the story more accessible to those unfamiliar with 500 year old Jesuit terminology)

For what St Ignatius wrote about these experiences or experiments
Excerpts from The Examination of Candidates

     – to be proposed to all who seek admission into the Society of Jesus – (written by St Ignatius in 1556)

64.  … He must undergo six main experiments, besides many others indicated below…

65.  The first is to go through the Spiritual Exercises for about a month:  that is, to examine one's conscience, review one's life, make a general confession, reflect on ones sinfulness;  then to contemplate the scenes and mysteries of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ our Lord; and to pray vocally and mentally according to one's capacity and divine guidance.

66.  The second is to serve for another month in one or more hospices, eating and sleeping there or spending some hours daily … assisting and serving all, ailing or healthy, as may be required.  This is in order to progress in humility, and to give proof of a total rejection of worldly pomp and vanity, so as to be entirely available to the Creator and lord, who for us was crucified.

67.  The third is to spend a month on pilgrimage, without money, and even begging occasionally from door to door for the love of Christ, so as to be inured to inadequacies of bed and board.  In this way all reliance on money or other human resources is abandoned, and hope is placed entirely in the Creator and Lord, with lively faith and ardent love…

68.  The fourth is that, on returning home one is fully engaged in lowly domestic chores, performing each with exemplary dedication.

^ Novice teaching hearing impaired children

69. The fifth is to beach the whole or part of Christian doctrine to young people or uneducated adults, in public or private, as the opportunity occurs and may seem best in the Lord, taking account of personal ability.

70. The sixth is that, after giving proof of exemplary behavior, on proceeds to preach … according to circumstances of time, place and people's dispositions.

81.  Everyone should fully accept that his bed, board and wardrobe will be those of a poor man; and each must expect the worst available, as a means to greater self-denial and spiritual growth, and to arrive at some common measure for all:  since the founder members experienced such deprivation and even harsher material straits, those who follow in their footsteps should try their very best to emulate and even surpass them.


101.  Moreover, the candidates should verry seriously take to heart the supreme importance in the sight of our Creator and lord, and the incalculable value for our spiritual progress, of rejecting totally and without reserve whatever the worldly so fondly cling to, and of eagerly reaching out for whatever Christ our Lord lovingly embraced.  For, as the earthly-minded who are infatuated with what this life has to offer, chase after honours, fame, and an impressive reputation here below, submitting to the dictates of fashion, so those who are progressing in spirit and treading firmly in the footsteps of Christ, are enamored of the very opposite, wanting by all means to don the livery of their cherished and respected Lord.  They would in fact wish to be insulted, calumniated or otherwise wronged, and reckoned as fools – if this could happen without offence to the divine Majesty or someone's sin, and they themselves gave no provocation – in order to resemble Jesus Christ our Lord, being clad in his garb;  for he himself wore it for our spiritual benefit, and gave us an example so that we might be drawn by his divine grace to imitate and follow him as far as can stretch ourselves, for he is the true way that leads us to life.

So they should be asked whether they experience such desires, which are so conducive to their spiritual health and progress.

102. If, because of our pitiful human weakness, anyone did not feel such an ardent desire in the Lord, he should be asked whether ha has at least desire to feel this desire.   If he answers in the affirmative, that he does indeed want so holy a desire, he should be further asked wither, as a help to its attainment, he is ready and willing to bear patiently with God's grace, any attack, ridicule or scorn associated with the service of Christ, or any other offense inflicted on him by anyone of his community or the Society … or by anybody else in the world; not rendering evil for evil, but good for evil.

103.  The better to arrive at this level of maturity, so precious in the spiritual life, his main concern and chief effort should be to strive in the Lord for growth in self-denial and relentless mortification in all things possible.  Our part will be to help him in this quest, according to the grace the Lord grants us, for his greater praise and glory.