NEW YORK - From his Latin roots to his Jesuit rearing, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the man no one expected to become pope. But in an instant he was thrust from obscurity and hailed seemingly overnight as the game-changer that could restore the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis is captivating believers and non-believers alike who are roused by his message and style. But to truly understand his holiness you must first understand the Jesuits. Founded in the 16th Century by Spanish warrior-turned-priest St. Ignatius Loyola, the Society of Jesuits is a male-only order within the church. The community of worldly wise intellectuals train for a full decade, or more, before becoming ordained. Jesuits believe deeply in education and in pursuing a career outside of the church, which is why you'll often see Jesuits as doctors, lawyers, journalists and scientists. Their focus is on the poor and in the steadfast belief that they must go to where no one else will. That has earned them the nickname "God's Marines."
Sam Sawyer is a Jesuit priest and an associate editor and director of digital strategy for AMERICA: The National Catholic Review. He explains that the Jesuits help the church think through problems carefully and deeply. He says that the Jesuits aren't a particularly ambitious group. At their core they are explicitly discouraged from holding church office. And why?
"We think of ourselves not as the order that might produce a pope, but rather the order that will serve the pope and be sent where the pope decides to send us," Sawyer says. And never once in 500 years has a Jesuit been called to serve in this way -- until Francis.
"You could talk to many Jesuits, five to 10 years ago -- even two years ago who might have said, if you ask them, if there would ever be a Jesuit pope they'd say 'No, of course not,'" says Chris Lowney, a Jesuit seminarian and author.
But now the two seem to go hand in hand. A pope focused on the poor yet free of the trappings of papal life. It is the exact reason Pope Francis is acting the way that he is: dressing in simple clothes, living in a simple apartment, and speaking a clear, simple message.
An outsider much of life, Francis, the fisher of souls, is now steering the boat in a new direction.