Pope Francis first jesuit pope, but what does that mean?

KANSAS CITY, Mo - He is a Pope of many firsts, including the first to use the name Francis and the first to be born in the Western hemisphere, but the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has another "first" to his credit that has many lay people scratching their heads. He is the first Jesuit priest to become pope.

The Jesuit Order, or Society of Jesus, is the largest priestly order within Catholicism, with more than 17,000 practicing priests spread around the globe. Founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola, it is also one of the oldest groups of its kind within the Catholic church.

Most lay people know the Jesuits best by their universities; some considered among the best in the nation. Georgetown, Boston College, Fordham and Kansas City's own Rockhurst University are among the 28 Jesuit universities stretching from New England to the Pacific coast.

According to Father John Craig, a Jesuit priest since 1977 and a lifelong educator himself, the focus on education by the Jesuits stems from the belief of the order's founder, St. Ignatius -- that educating minds and saving souls went hand in hand.

"Ignatius' main way of talking about god is conversation, " Father Craig said. "And education is nothing more than conversation. It's a more structured conversation but it's still conversation."

The high educational standards hold true for Jesuits themselves. Most build backgrounds in subjects other than theology and philosophy. Pope Francis, for example, studied to be a chemist.

The Jesuits also focus deeply on service. Many members serve missions in the poorest communities on the planet, often living far simpler lives than their fellow priests.

The new pope's work with the ill and impoverished in Argentina, along with his simple style and his well-documented preference for using public transportation over fancier church-provided options, all fit the Jesuit mold.

Father Craig said he believes Francis' combination of Jesuit training and temperament could suit him well as he serves at a difficult time for a church rocked by recent scandal and corruption.

"I think he has the right tools because I think he will be able to stop and listen," Father Craig said. "We might not always like the answers he's going to be able to hear, but he'll be able to stop and listen."

 

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