Skip to main content
Historical Archives
Jesuits - Euro-Mediterranean Province
Historical Archives Curiosities and news Leaving the Society of Jesus

Leaving the Society of Jesus

One of the first rules one learns when consulting the Society’s historical catalogues is that a Jesuit’s name cannot suddenly disappear from a catalogue, from one year to the next, unless it is listed among the deceased or resigned. Leaving the Society is possible. Wearing the religious habit is a choice and as such is subject to reflection, second thoughts, doubts and can therefore be revoked.

Most Jesuits who entered the Society of Jesus continued their religious journey after their novitiate, but a percentage of novices chose to leave the Society, this is still the case today.

There are various reasons, which have also changed over time: some reasons that might have led to leaving the Society in the mid 19th century no longer justify resignation, such as health reasons.

Resignations can be requested directly by the Jesuit or imposed by the order.

From the historical records of resignations we know the different reasons that could lead a Jesuit to ask for resignation. Accompanying us on our journey through the archives today is the register of those admitted and discharged in the Venetian-Milanese Province, compiled between the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In many cases, it is not a question of the fading of the vocation, but the choice of another religious charism. In fact, many Jesuits over the years have entered other religious orders: Franciscans, Capuchins or diocesan clergy, realising that their vocation was oriented towards different apostolates.

Let us look at the reasons that could justify resignations in the past, but which are no longer in force today, such as “valetudinis causa” for health reasons, or “ob difectum oculis”, i.e. for eyesight problems.

Health reasons could cover a wide range: from chronic illnesses to particular problems related to the inability to perform the apostolate, such as loss of sight or voice, or infirmity.

Among these reasons was Monaldo Leopardi’s departure from the Society of Jesus, following various health problems encountered between his novitiate and his first years as a scholastic.

Other records report among the ill-health: a frequent headache, a temperament little inclined to obedience or particularly livorous, melancholy a term nowadays more correctly called ‘depression’.

Among the most frequent reasons for leaving the novitiate is the realisation that one’s vocation is not so strong; the novitiate period in fact has among its aims also that of ascertaining the depth of one’s call to the service of God.

Nowadays, one no longer leaves the Society of Jesus for health reasons, but the novitiate has maintained the peculiar probationary purpose of the vocation, the two years of life allow novices to test and prove themselves, continuing to do so throughout their religious life.

Leaving the Society of Jesus can in fact also take place later, the procedure differing according to the moment in religious life when the Jesuit leaves the Society, whether before or after priestly ordination and whether requested before or after final vows.

Maria Macchi