Since the founding of the Society of Jesus by Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuits have been a powerful force in the areas of missionary activity, teaching, and preaching. In THE FIFTH WEEK, Father O'Malley writes of renowned Jesuits in the past, and also describes the Jesuit training process. For anyone seeking general insight into the Society of Jesus, THE FIFTH WEEK is a very apropos introductory survey.
After my son had studied "The Fifth Week" in his high school religion class I told him to retain it at the end of the class for my reading. It was one of the best literary decisions I ever made.
"The Fifth Week" is divided into three sections: Jesuits of the Past; Jesuits of the Present; and Jesuits of the Future.
It was the first two sections which primarily attracted me to this book. Jesuits of the Past and Jesuits of the Present consist of brief biographies of Jesuit heroes. As a product of Jesuit education, I had heard many of these names, either in sketchy legends or on the nameplates of schools or buildings. This book put stories to these names.
The first and longest biography belongs, fittingly enough, to St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society. During a forced convalescence from battlefield wounds, a reading of the Lives of the Saints transformed this servant of the King of Spain into one of the most illustrious servants of the King of Heaven.
Other biographies bring the brightest stars in the Jesuit sky to life. St. Francis Xavier, after whom my College Church is named, was the great missionary who took the Faith to the Orient. St. Edmund Campion had to me been merely the patron of a building at college. From this book I learned that he was a 16th century Jesuit who trained in Prague before returning to his native England to minister to Catholics during the height of the Reformation persecution of the Church until his martyrdom in 1581.
Another interesting English Jesuit of the Reformation era was St. Nicholas Owen. St. Nicholas was a Jesuit brother who's main ministry was the building of priestly hideouts in the great houses of English Catholics until he was captured and tortured to death in 1606.
One of the most notable exemplars of the Jesuit charism is Matteo Ricci who followed in the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier in bringing the Gospel to the Orient. In keeping with the Jesuit theme of using all things to bring people to God, Matteo followed St. Paul's entreaty to be all things to all men. Immersing himself in Chinese culture and adopting Chinese dress, he obtained acceptance into the Chinese Imperial Court. From this position started a movement which in 50 years was to include 150,000 Chinese Catholics.
Among my favorite heroes are the North American Martyr, St. John de Breboeuf, and Peter DeSmet, the St. Louis based western missionary and patron the high school at which my son studied this book.
The explanation of the suppression of the Jesuits occurring in various places from 1759-1814 was a movement of which I had heard and read but which I did not understand until reading this book..
The Jesuits of the Past section concludes with the biography of Blessed Miguel Pro, "Jesuit Clown.". My family and I had first heard of Miguel Pro during a passing reference in a homily to "Viva Christo Rey-Long Live Christ the King!", his last words while facing a firing squad. His story was, actually, similar to that of St. Edmund Campion. Driven from his native Mexico by anticlerical persecutions, Pro studied in California, Spain, Nicaragua and Belgium. Sneaking back into Mexico after ordination, his skillful use of a series of disguises permitted him to minister to the faithful for 2 years during which he avoided capture by the authorities.
Section 2 highlights contemporary Jesuits. Daniel Lord used teaching, writing, theatre and social action to bring God to his people. World War II made heroes of Carl Hausman, a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines and Joseph O'Callahan, a chaplain aboard the U.S.S. Franklin during a devastating Kamikaze attack. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a paleontologist who brought the faith to the world of science.
Fr. O'Malley begins the transition from Section 2 to Section 3 by introducing the story of his own vocation.
Section 3 is the story of the Jesuits of the Future. An inquiry into the Society of today, the challenges of the world and obstacles to a religious vocation are viewed reflectively. The book concludes with the questions a man must confront in discerning whether he has a vocation to the priestly or religious life. The final pages are devoted to the practical steps one must take in order to explore the possibility of living the Jesuit life.
I began this book I with high expectations. At its conclusion my expectations were fulfilled. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the stories of Jesuit heroes as well as anyone who wants to understand what has attracted so many outstanding men of the past to the Society of Jesus and what continues to attract the Church leaders of tomorrow.