Jesuit Seattle

The Beginning of the Jesuits: From Pamplona to Montana

In 1521, a vastly outnumbered Spanish force defended the small walled city of Pamplona against the might of the French military, when a cannonball shattered the leg of a young Basque lieutenant who had been most ardent in the city’s defense. Treated well by the French, the young man was not expected to survive, but was sent back to his home to recover. There, slowly mending from the wound and subsequent surgeries, he longed for books of chivalry to read, but found only two books in the house: one, a life of Christ, and the other, a life of the saints. As he read these, over and over again, slowly the young knight began to change, coming to see his past life as foolish and longing to serve God.

It would take young Iñigo de Loyola many years and many mistakes to learn what God had in store for him. Thinking, at first, only of imitating the great saints, he found that God did not want him to be St. Dominic or St. Francis, but to be himself. So, by the river Cardoner, in the village of Manresa, he surrendered himself to God and began the road meant for him. And as he learned more about how to recognize God’s call, he began to write down what he had learned, composing a series of Spiritual Exercises, which he used to help others find their calling and discern their own relationship to God.

Desiring only to serve the greater glory of God, Ignatius returned to school—a man in his 30’s among boys—and ended up studying for the priesthood in Paris. There he met others who, experiencing Ignatius’ Exercises joined him in working among the poor and seeking a way more in line with God’s call to serve wherever they were needed. Although, at first, they hoped to go and work among the poor in Jerusalem, that proved impossible. So, in 1537, these ten men— identifying themselves as Companions of Jesus—arrived in Rome, where they offered themselves in service to the Pope for any service they could give; yet, before separated, they vowed themselves to one another, forming a religious community known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, promising each other that they would be united in heart, even as they were separated in space—going to the ends of the earth to do whatever was needed “ad majorem Dei gloriam” i.e., “for the greater glory of God.

In those first years, the ten Companions grew quickly, and took on missions across the world: from India and Japan, to Brazil and Ethiopia. In Europe, the Jesuits began to form schools for young boys, beginning at Messina in 1547, and soon they were “the schoolmasters of Europe.” And in North America, Jesuits landed with the English settlers of Maryland and with the French in Canada—working among the Huron and Iroquois peoples. It was from these French Jesuits that the Native people would first receive the Catholic faith and carry it, across the plains, to Montana, where they would teach it to the Blackfeet nation—who accepted it with great joy, but longed for priests to offer the Sacraments. It was a delegation of Blackfeet, led by Old Ignace, who came to the Jesuits of St. Louis, inviting them into the Northwest. And though it took three different attempts, this approach was finally succeeded, when Peter de Smet came West to serve in what is today Montana. So began the Jesuit mission to the Northwest.

The Jesuits in Seattle: Many Ministries, One Mission

Though Jesuits first came to the Oregon Territory through Montana, by the early 1890’s it was clear there was a growing need for their ministry in the Western part of the region, as well. By 1891, the Jesuits were in Seattle—joining with the Holy Names Sisters to found Immaculate Conception Parish and School, first in a rented building at 6th and Spring, and later on Broadway in what is today Garrand Hall on Seattle University’s campus. Seattle’s third Catholic Parish, Immaculate Conception moved to its current location in 1894, under the leadership of Frs. Victor Garrand and Adrian Sweere, leaving the old location as the beginning of Seattle College—i.e., the school that would eventually become both Seattle Preparatory School and Seattle University.

The works of the Society of Jesus have prospered in Seattle over the last 126 years thanks to the deep friendship of Jesuit and lay partners, dedicated to that original vision of Ignatius and his first Companions. Today, many ministries have arisen from the inspiration of Ignatius—works that educate the young, that minister the Sacraments, that help women and men discern God’s movement in their own lives, that raise up those on the margins of society and challenge the reasons for those margins. Joined, as of this year, to a new Province—Jesuits West (uniting the old Oregon and California Provinces)—the Jesuit ministries of Seattle are a profound gift for the region. Here is a list of those operating in Seattle:

Jesuits West Province -
Jesuits around the world are associated in geographic Provinces to assist in their ministry. Jesuits West, which began in June, is the spiritual home of the Jesuit and Jesuit ministries across Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Hawaii—as well as our connection to the world-wide Society of Jesus. To find out more about Jesuits West, or if you are thinking about becoming a Jesuit, check out this website.

Seattle Preparatory School -
Since 1891, Seattle Preparatory School has been providing Jesuit-inspired education for service, teaching young people to “find God in all things,” and preparing them to become people for others. Since 1976, Seattle Prep has offered a co-educational learning environment in the heart of Seattle.

Seattle University -
Founded in 1891, Seattle University offers a Jesuit Catholic education in the heart of the city. With more than 7400 students in undergraduate and graduate programs, Seattle U has nine schools and colleges, and is known for its strong emphasis on justice and mission.

St. Joseph Parish -
Founded in 1904, as a mission of Immaculate Conception Parish, St. Joseph Parish and School became independent in 1907—the result of a growing Catholic population on Capitol Hill. Today, St. Joseph Church, built in 1930, is an architectural wonder, known for its fine liturgy and universal welcome. Meanwhile, St. Joseph School, one of the largest Catholic grade schools on the west coast, is known for its dedication to forming students of compassion and competence.

Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL Puget Sound) -
Founded in 1986, SEEL offers the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises for women and men who cannot take 30 days out for a retreat, but who seek to experience this transforming spirituality over a nine month period. Beginning every fall, SEEL Puget Sound, serves both Seattle (from St. Joseph Parish) and Tacoma.

Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) -
Begun in 1991, through the partnership of multiple religious communities—including the Jesuits—the IPJC acts for justice in the church and in the world, collaborating with Catholic, ecumenical, interfaith and other organizations in carrying out this mission. They have produced over 20 publications, held 35 conferences, offer workshops and presentations in parishes, schools, and communities of action.

Ignatian Spirituality Center (ISC) -
The Ignatian Spirituality Center, founded in 1994 and located at St. Joseph Parish, brings together lay people, vowed religious, and Jesuits, trained in Ignatian and other spiritualities, to provide programs designed to deepen spiritual growth. ISC all helps provide spiritual direction, programs, and resources that assist persons of all faiths to serve Christ’s mission of compassion, healing, and justice.

Seattle Nativity School -
One of the newest editions to Jesuit Seattle is Seattle Nativity School, built on a model first begun in New York in the early 80’s. Seattle Nativity is a Catholic, Jesuit-endorsed, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) middle school, located at Mount Virgin Parish, seeking to break the cycle of poverty through an education that nourishes souls and ignites leaders for love and service. Having just graduated their second class of 8th graders, SNS, does much to use the historic gift of Jesuit pedagogy to move young women and men into better, fuller lives.

Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) -
Begun in Chicago in 2006, and first brought to Seattle in 2011, the Ignatian Spirituality Project offers men and women who are homeless and in recovery from addiction the opportunity to change their lives. Ignatian spirituality and Ignatian retreats are an effective and important resource in laying a foundation of hope which can lead to further and long lasting transformation.

Jesuit Volunteer Corps: Northwest & JV EnCorps -
Begun in 1956, when a group of volunteers were recruited to work at Copper Valley School in Alaska, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps: Northwest has helped form generations of women and men to serve local needs and ask global questions. With two houses in Seattle, JVC:NW, headquartered in Portland, invites young women and men to live out the values of spirituality, simple living, community, and social justice, through a year with others, serving the needs of their neighbors (who often become their friends). In the last few years, a new program, JV Encorps, has invited 50+ people to grow as a community of service, while staying in their own homes.

South Puget Sound. . .many of the works listed above serve throughout the Puget Soundregion. Other Jesuit and partner ministries include St. Leo Church, Tacoma ( and Bellarmine Preparatory School, Tacoma (






Fr. John D. Whitney, S.J.Fr. John D. Whitney, S.J.

(206) 965-1647

Fr. Julian Climaco, S.J.Fr. Julian Climaco, S.J.

Parochial Vicar
(206) 965-1643