The Jesuit order is a Roman Catholic religious order. A man in this order has taken the requisite steps to belong to the Society of Jesus, which may include vows of poverty and obedience. It is the largest male religious order in the world.
Founded in 1534, the order was started by a company of graduate students in Paris as headed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, originally Inigo Lopez de Loyola, a Spaniard from Basque. Ignatius was the son of an aristocrat who dreamed of a knighthood. He felt called by a greater power, however, and was instead ordained as a priest through a commendation given by Pope Paul III in 1537. In 1540, the religious order of the Society of Jesus was approved.
In 1552, Ignatius' Constitutions were adopted by the order, creating an efficient and, at times, influential organization. The Jesuit's motto became Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG), or "For the Greater Glory of God", so that everything is offered up to God. Interestingly, the ideology is such that it has tangled with Rome on not a few occasions. Sometimes called the "papal elite troops" for their effectiveness as well as their intellect, they were also sometimes suppressed by the Vatican for the same reasons.
As the Jesuit order developed, a tri-fold mission began to emerge: the founding of schools, the conversion of non-Christians, and the halt of the spread of protestantism in the western world. It is perhaps due to its members' zeal that not more European nations have left the influence of Rome. Currently, the Jesuits are active in ministries in 112 different nations on six continents. They are most known for the excellence of their schools, although they also play their roles in the fights against war, poverty, social injustice, and violence. In fact, they shun no work, and like the the Renaissance men that their founder idolized, they are well-versed in multiple disciplines.
Unfortunately, the order is also well-versed in controversies, being the target of many itself, both in and out of the Catholic Church. Its detractors claim that its members are part of various conspiracies and secret organizations, while conservative Catholics chastise them for their modern views, especially on such issues as abortion, priestly celibacy, homosexuality, and liberation theology.
In spite of all this, the Jesuits have developed a reputation for being strong, as well as open-hearted, men of faith. During the Holocaust, for instance, many members risked their lives to help the Jews. In fact, the Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, has even seen fit to give recognition to nine Jesuit priests for risking their lives to save Jews. In Rockhurst University, a Jesuit institution, a commemoration plaque to honor 152 members who gave up their lives for their fellowmen was inaugurated in 2007; it is the first plaque of its kind in the world. It is also common to find centers dedicated to different religions in a Jesuit campus.
The order is headed by a superior general who is elected for life, although he is allowed to step down. It may take up to 14 years to be ordained as a Jesuit priest.