This post is an update of sorts to one of this blog’s most visited pieces of research by CARA’s Executive Director Thomas P. Gaunt, SJ, PhD. It provides the most recent view of what is happening in the Society of Jesus globally:
This year marked the 200th Anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pope Pius VII in 1814. The first 150 years of the restored Society saw a steady increase in the number of Jesuits across Europe and the Americas and the beginnings of an indigenous Jesuit population in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The most recent 50 years show a reversal in the pattern of growth and expansion of Jesuits as India replaces the United States as the largest national group, and Asia and Africa experience steady growth compared to the declining numbers in Europe and North America.
The changing number of Jesuits is driven by three factors: the number of men entering the novitiate each year, the number of men departing the Jesuits each year, and the number of Jesuits that die each year. A steady growth in the number of Jesuits is usually due to a consistently larger group entering year after year and a smaller group dying each year. A steady decline is usually the reverse of these two factors. Since the number of entrances or deaths can vary quite a bit year over year this study examines the data in 5 year blocks in order to smooth annual variances.
For administrative purposes the provinces of the Society of Jesus are organized under six geographic regions:
- Africa – all of Africa and Madagascar except North Africa
- Latin America – all of South America, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean
- South Asia – India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka
- East Asia – Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, Thailand, and Myanmar
- Europe – Europe, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Canada
- United States – USA, Jamaica, Belize, and Micronesia
The graph below shows the total number of Jesuits at five year intervals (1988, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013) over the past 25 years. Both Africa and South Asia show a steady increase in numbers, and East Asia has a small decline. The Jesuits of Latin America have a steady decline in numbers, and the Jesuits of the United States and Europe have a much sharper decline. Europe and the United States have about one-half the number of Jesuits as 25 years ago.
Twenty-five years ago the largest number of entering novices were in Europe followed by South Asia and then Latin America. The United States, Africa and East Asia each had smaller numbers entering. Over the years the number entering declined in Europe, Latin America and the United States while the number entering in South Asia and East Asia fluctuated. Only Africa saw a continuous increase in new novices.
The sharp decline in the number of entering novices, more than 50 percent, in Europe, Latin America, and the United States accounts for almost all of the decline in entrances. The rest of the world is relatively stable or growing. In 1988 Europe, Latin America and the United States had 59 percent of all the entering novices and by 2013 this had declined to 40 percent. On the other hand, South Asia, East Asia and Africa went from 41 percent to 60 percent of the entering novices. The clear majority of younger Jesuits are now coming from Asia and Africa.
Departures from the Jesuits
In a pattern that is typical for all religious institutes, a large number of the men who enter the Jesuit novitiate later leave, usually during the years of formation before ordination or final vows. In general the pattern of departures follows the earlier pattern of entrances for each region of the Jesuits. There is a sharp decline in the number of departures over 25 years in Europe and the United States, and more recently in Latin America. There are fewer departures in East Asia and an increase in departures in Africa and South Asia.
Entrants minus Departures
The sustainability of the membership of a religious community relies on their being more entrances than departures over the course of years. The graph below shows the gain or loss for each region of Jesuits in five-year periods over the past 25 years. South Asia and Africa have had large gains in members in each period of time. East Asia has shown a smaller but increasing gain, and Europe a diminished but stabilizing gain. Latin America and the United States have shown periods of a loss of members (more men departing than entering over a five-year period), although both are showing a net gain in recent years.
Number of Deaths
The vast majority of older Jesuits who entered prior to 1960 are in Europe and the United States, and there are fewer older Jesuits in Africa and South Asia. The Jesuits in Europe and the United States have consistently accounted for about two-thirds of all the deaths over the past 25 years while their proportion of the overall Jesuit membership has gone from 60 percent to 44 percent.
Entrances minus Departures minus Deaths: Net Gain or Loss
When the number of men leaving the Jesuits is subtracted from the number entering and then the number of deaths are subtracted from that figure, we have the net gain or loss in Jesuit membership. In combining these three basic demographic elements we see clearly the large and continuous impact of the declining membership in Europe and the United States, and to a lesser extent Latin America. Only Africa and South Asia record any net gain in Jesuits year over year, and that gain is dwarfed by the losses of Europe and the United States. While Africa and South Asia may have a net gain of 100 to 200 Jesuits over a five-year period, Europe and the United States have a net loss 1,200 to 1,300 Jesuits.
The greatest contrast in Jesuit demography among the regions of the world is the number of deaths. The large number of elderly Jesuits in Europe and the United States dying each year is the dominant factor in the changing Jesuit demography. Around 2000, the Jesuits of South Asia out-numbered the Jesuits of the United States and it is expected that South Asia may out-number Europe by 2015.
As Jesuits gather in 2016 for a General Congregation and to elect a new Superior General, the demographic center of the Jesuits will be in South Asia and the global South.
Image courtesy of Ilho Song.