The Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. As conceived by the founder, it had a twofold aim: to strengthen and where necessary to restore the Catholic faith in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, and to preach the Gospel in non-Christian lands. Typical of the first purpose was the establishment of colleges throughout Europe, and the second purpose was the development of worldwide mission enterprises in Asia, Africa, and the newly developed Americas.
The Society of Jesus grew out of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and its structure and discipline were embodied in the detailed Constitutions, also written by the founder.
Opposition from many quarters, but especially from the Jansenists, led to suppression of the Jesuits by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. They were restored by Pope Pius VII in 1814. Since their restoration, they grew in numbers to become the largest single religious institute in the Catholic world through their universities, colleges, and secondary schools, through scholarly publications, retreat houses, and seminaries.
The Society of Jesus is divided into assistancies, these in turn into provinces, and within the provinces are local communities. The superior general is elected for life; he appoints provincials and also the rectors of the more important local communities.
There are three kinds of finally professed members in the society: the solemnly professed and the spiritual coadjutors who are priests, and the lay brothers who are spiritual coadjutors. The solemnly professed take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and four simple vows: special obedience to the Pope, not to mitigate the society's poverty, not to accept ecclesiastical dignitaries, actively seeking to avoid such preferments. The others take simple vows only. But all the finally professed make a total renunciation of private ownership.