The Curia’s release of the latest statistics on the Society of Jesus on 10 May 2012 reveals the changing face of its members and reexamines the ways in which Jesuits can carry out its universal mission.
The figures showed the total number of Jesuits at 17,637 as of December 2011. This number includes 12,526 priests, 1,470 brothers, 2,896 scholastics, and 745 novices, with a net loss of 296 members from 1January 2011.
The numbers are also laid out historically, showing the total number of Jesuits in 1973 at 30,013, down to 17,637 in 2011. Despite an overall decrease worldwide, the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP), which includes the Australian Province, was the only region that saw an increase in the number of novices (11) over the past year. The youngest Jesuits are found in the South Asia conference, which is also home to the largest percentage of Jesuits.
These figures are best studied in the context of more detailed numbers from JCAP. Based on figures since 2001, projections for older and more established Provinces within the Conference, such as China, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia and Australia show a pattern of declining membership.
The news is not all bad. The Jesuits remain the largest men’s religious order. The flipside to the Asia Pacific estimates in fact indicates a steady increase of Jesuits in relatively young provinces, such as Vietnam, Korea, East Timor, Taiwan and Malaysia.
What are the implications of this shift in membership within the region and elsewhere, in carrying out the Society’s mission? Fr Mark Raper SJ, President of JCAP, emphasises the importance of the quality of Jesuit formation and of providing mentoring and leadership skills to younger members.
‘Our concern is not primarily with numbers, but with the capacity of our applicants for the demanding mission we are given by the Lord today. Our attention has been to improve the quality of those who are accepted, rather than to increase the number of candidates to the Society’, he said.
Another crucial task lies in developing the capacity to be more fluid and adaptable, but to still retain definition.
‘Ignatius wanted a body of men prepared and disposed to go wherever the needs are greatest. The challenge therefore is both to prepare Jesuit personnel for this type of mobility, and also to have the organisational arrangements that facilitate sending the right person to the right place at the right time’, said Fr Raper.
By Giselle Lapitan
Read Fr Raper’s Thinkpeace, Preparing the Jesuits of Tomorrow, here.