Jesuit Novitiate
Novitiate of the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus


“Tending the Jesuits is like tending a flock of toads”. As said by Pope Francis

27 Sep 2018

I had recently arrived in Gallarate. My head and heart were still tied to the teens of the EYM (Eucharistic Youth Movement) of Genoa, to whom I had only recently waved goodbye after a summer camp of community service in Naples. I could have been at the summer camp for young adults in Selva di Valgardena, in Trentino, in the midst of lush and beautiful mountains, typically organised around mid-August. I had attended this camp a few years before entering the novitiate. I couldn’t wait to go back there. And instead, for different exigencies which arose on the journey, here I was, in the periphery between Milan and Varese.

The idea was that I should help out in our infirmary for elderly Jesuits. In practice I found myself, in addition to the service in the infirmary, plucking hens; watering the garden; gathering prunes and hazelnuts in the garden; sweeping leaves away from in front of our Shrine of the Sacred Heart, in preparation for the feast of Our Mother, the Assumption of Mary. I was tired, disheartened, confused. Quite a leap from being with young university students in the mountains, from working on themselves so as to love and serve more God, in a charming place, to having one’s poor legs assaulted by mosquitoes in the garden, just as flowers are by bees.

Returned indoors, I open my email inbox. There’s good news: a new novice has been admitted to the novitiate. There will be others joining him in the new year that is about to begin. It’s time to rejoice at the good news and I notice that in reply to this email there is a link, sent by one of my second-year novice companions, now a scholastic, fresh from first vows by the time I am writing this and soon leaving to study philosophy in Rome. I am immediately struck by the theme, because it concerns the meeting at St. Peter’s held by Pope Francis with the European scholastics, of which I had already heard about. I open it, start reading and am immediately struck by a humourous remark on the cassock, now no longer worn by Jesuits (at least not by the Pope!), which puts me in a good mood. I continue and come across a really interesting comment: tending Jesuits is like tending a flock of toads: one here, one there … An image which makes you smile, beautiful, but which also seems very true.

At first glance, from the image evoked by the flock of toads, one might get the idea that every Jesuit goes off on his own, and it makes one smile very much to imagine it. And then the Pope immediately speaks of a great freedom in being a Jesuit. What joy! But that’s not all. Along with great freedom, we need great obedience to the pastor, “who must have the great gift of discernment in order to allow each of the “toads” to choose what he hears the Lord ask of him. This is the originality of the Society: unity with great diversity” (the full text can be found at the following link

In the freedom of beloved children, forgiven by Our Lord Jesus, to discern what the Lord asks of each one and to be sent forth in the common mission of the Society: these are the themes launched by Pope Francis to the Jesuits in formation. Themes which we novices have also tried to live during this past year, novices from North-South-Central Italy, from Malta, from Romania, from Slovenia.

The Pope goes on, then, to quote the speeches of Paul VI and Father Arrupe to give other sources of inspiration to the young Jesuits. Finally, he encourages them to remember the key to the Jesuit vocation: “be anchored in the Lord”.

The end of my reading brings me back to reality, but with a different taste. These interventions by Pope Francis console me. They help to grasp various aspects of the life of the believer, in general, and, in particular, of the life of the Jesuit, when he speaks with his confreres.

It’s absolutely true what the Pope had said: Jesuits are like a flock of frogs. Together with my companions of the novitiate, in my small way, I was already experiencing it. Before Gallarate, I had already been: in Slovenia, Puglia for a return visit to family for a few days, Naples with the EYM; and still waiting for me were a course in Italian held in the novitiate for international scholastics as well as a course of spiritual exercises for families in Schilpario, in the mountains of Bergamo.

In all this wandering, we need to know how to find a dynamic equilibrium, even if it is not always so easy and immediate, as I said at the beginning of the article. This is why in the novitiate we do these summer experiments. Without having Jesus in one’s heart, this kind of life would be impossible. Staying with Jesus, the relationship with Jesus, growing in love and intimacy with Him: this was the task entrusted to me by the Master of novices during the Ignatian month of Spiritual Exercises. At the end of this summer I can reread my experience and verify how I met Jesus in my weaknesses and difficulties. And at the end of the two weeks, I no longer wanted to leave Gallarate.

In the infirmary and in the community there, in fact, I’ve had some beautiful encounters with my Jesuit confreres. Each one with many years of the Society behind him, his own uniqueness and beauty, each with his own history and his own diversity, with his own strengths and weaknesses, but as the Pope said, united in diversity in the common mission for the Kingdom of God in the Church.

Also very beautiful were the encounters with the Jesuits, dear to me, with whom I lived the experiences of the EYM and Schilpario. An article would need to be written just for them. But it does not seem to be the case, even though I remain grateful for the fun and depth their presence brought: without them, I don’t know how I would have made it.

Pope Francis I believe has once again hit the nail on the head. I believe his image of a flock of toads for the Jesuits is appropriate (and inspired I would add).



*The cover photo is a painting by Brother Venzo, a Jesuit, found inside the Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart at Gallarate



Interview with the new Socius Fr. Davide Saporiti

21 Nov 2022

In September a new Socius arrived in our community: Fr. Davide Saporiti SJ. His predecessor Fr. Iosif Şandoru SJ began the third year in the Dominican Republic.

You have been for 10 years in the retreat house in Bologna. How did you take the news when the Provincial communicated your new destination?

Initially with a bit of sorrow at having to leave a place I knew and loved where I spent all my energy; loved for the activities I carried out and the beautiful relationships I experienced. Later, however – I say this without rhetoric – deep inside me I felt peace because I understand the apostolic mobility that is part of our vocation. The Jesuit is a man sent for others. I understand that staying too long in reality runs the risk of becoming its owner, of taking root, of no longer having pastoral freshness and therefore not doing good for the work itself. In this new destination, i.e. in the Novitiate, I have no problem with the type of work or the environment, but – as often happens – a sense of inadequacy arises in the face of novelty: am I capable of doing well the things that are asked of me? At the same time I feel that in the Novitiate I can give the best of myself.

You celebrated your 25th anniversary in the Society of Jesus a few weeks ago. You are now 6 Jesuits in the Society of your year. What is your memory of the Novitiate?

The first thought is that we are half the number of novices I entered with. Thinking of former companions, I realise that those who continue the journey in the Company are no better than those who leave: indeed, the vocation is something personal. (Although it has to be confirmed by the Society).
For me it was very formative to join a heterogeneous group. Companions with very different ecclesial experiences, different maturations, different tastes, have opened my eyes to so many sensitivities that I had not considered before. The most emotional memories are definitely with the people, both novices and formators. A unique bond remains with the companions of the novitiate, even if we hear each other very little. I also have vivid memories of the typical novitiate experiments: the month of Cottolengo, the Lent experiment with students from one of our colleges and, of course, the Month of Spiritual Exercises; these were the passages that marked me deeply: every time I think about them a light goes on.

And what is your memory of your Socius? In what aspect do you want to be like him?

In the two years of novitiate I changed Master and also Socius. The first was very gentle and also very learned without showing it. The second was good at accompanying and guiding Spiritual Exercises, I saw in him a model of a Jesuit. Both were very helpful and I too would like to be helpful in what was asked of me. Above all, God willing, I would like to witness with my life more than with words the joy of following the Lord in the Society. But this is also true in other environments, not only in the Novitiate.

What will your commitments be this year?

I am understanding little by little, because some things have changed since I did the Novitiate. I interpret my role in concentric circles. The first circle (and the most important) is the life of the Novitiate: the formative modules with the novices, the instruction for the Month of Spiritual Exercises, the re-reading of the Month and everything related to the life of the Novitiate in the strict sense. Then, a subsequent “circle” concerns the life of the house and our works in the city: guiding guests who make the Spiritual Exercises, spiritual accompaniment, helping the pastoral care of the Jesuits in the city (SEEL for young people, CLC…). Finally, the more ‘external’ circle includes all the requests that arrive from the diocese or from our Province: formation courses, Spiritual Exercises courses and so on…

What memory would you like to leave in the memory of the novices? What message would you like to communicate through your example of life?

As mentioned earlier, I would like to communicate the joy of following the Lord in the Society. When I think of the Jesuits I admired in my youth, what impressed me about them was not only and above all their great pastoral skills (although they are important) but that they taught me ‘who a Jesuit is’: a person sent because he feels part of a universal body, a person in love with the Lord who can only spend his life for others, a person capable of self-denial and obedience, capable of living in community with a constructive style (today we would say ‘synodal’) but always in obedience to the superior because the two are not mutually exclusive. I too would like to testify, at least in part, to all this.


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