A fascinating look at Catholicism’s most prestigious order in a time of change and confusion.
McDonough (Political Science/Arizona State Univ.) and Bianchi (Religion Emeritus/Emory Univ.) follow up McDonough’s history of American Jesuits in the 20th century (Men Astutely Trained, 1991) with this study of the order since the Second Vatican Council, a period when it has faced a massive decline in membership, an almost Copernican transformation of its spiritual personality, a realignment of its ministries, and a growing uncertainty about its future and its relation to the larger church. McDonough and Bianchi have surveyed 430 Jesuits and ex-Jesuits, ranging in age from 28 to 85, including lawyers, teachers, administrators, parish priests, and students in formation. Although the authors apply sophisticated social-scientific analysis to their data—the jargon is sometimes off-putting—their work allows us to listen to an amazing variety of Jesuit voices discussing the calculus of stress and satisfaction that keeps members in the order or prompts them to leave: their struggles with the church’s teachings on sex and the accommodations that some—straight and gay—have made with their vows of celibacy; the place of therapy and personal fulfillment in the process of spiritual formation; the difficulties of life in community; uncertainty over the role of the ordained priesthood in an order where ministry decisions are increasingly market-driven; conflicts over the place of academic excellence, spirituality and social justice in the schools and colleges for which they are famous; and members’ relationships—sometimes supportive, sometimes hostile, and often uneasy—with the church’s hierarchy and their own superiors.
McDonough and Bianchi avoid a facile progressive triumphalism and deal quite forthrightly with the tensions and difficulties that both liberal and conservative agendas pose to the order: a highly interesting take on the future of the American church and its Jesuit elite.