HOUSTON, Texas — When Cardinal Bergoglio stepped out as Pope Francis, few priests were more surprised than the ones in his own order.
“I was baffled,” Fr. TJ Martinez, SJ said. “Thought it was a joke.”
Like Pope Francis, Martinez is a Jesuit.
“I would say it’s extraordinarily rare for a Jesuit to ascend any ecclesiastical office higher than priesthood,” Martinez said.
Formed in 1540 by Saint Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuits have been known for missionary work and for establishing high schools and universities.
And they have left a footprint on Houston.
The first major wave came to the city in the 1950s. Working with Catholic families, which had moved from Saint Louis, they opened Strake Jesuit High School.
The second wave came just a few years back. That group ministered to a different population, the under-served, and opened Cristo Rey Jesuit High School on Houston’s southeast side.
Today Martinez is Cristo Rey’s president. Just as he sees potential in his new school, he sees promise in the new pope.
“He would probably be comfortable in a prayer room, in a classroom and a boardroom all at once, which is very Jesuit, finding God in all things,” Martinez said. “I think he’s going to do a little bit more of a needs assessment, a deep dive, on what the church needs.”
There are now roughly 20,000 Jesuits living in more than 100 counties.
All may be celebrating what will go down as one of their order’s major milestones: Obtaining the highest, most holy and most mysterious seat in the church for the first time in nearly 500 years.