Pope Benedict XVI was named for St. Benedict, who founded the earliest of the three orders. The Franciscans were next, as St. Francis broke away from the Benedictines to form a simpler order; he was followed by St. Anthony of Padua and they ministered to the poor. The Jesuits were founded in Spain, in response to the Reformation, by Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier.
It is significant that Pope Francis I is named for the original St. Francis, the poor friar, not the Francis who co-founded his own order, the Society of Jesus, the more scholarly and worldly missionaries. He is the first Pope Francis, which suggests the controversies that surrounded both the Xavier and Assisi Francises.
Often, the fastest way to understand the practical differences among the many different orders is to pay attention to the jokes they tell one another. Here are two about Benedictines, Franciscans and Jesuits. (Full disclosure: I spent three years at a Benedictine school in Yorkshire, England, and three years at a Benedictine school in Rhode Island. I am proud of the education I received.)
- Three priests die the same week and they are ushered in to meet God for the first time. One is a Benedictine, one a Franciscan and the third is a Jesuit. God asks if they are comfortable and if there is anything they would want to return to earth for. The Benedictine says: "I miss singing Gregorian chant. I would like to go back and pick up some of the music and bring it back." The Franciscan says: "I have thought of another reason why rich people should share their wealth. When they get here, they will have to learn how to make do without it. It's very hard for some, and sharing more on earth would be good practice. I would like to go back and tell people that." The Jesuit said: "If I could return to earth, I would find a better doctor."
- A Franciscan and a Jesuit were killed in the same accident and were in line together before St. Peter. The Franciscan humbly lets the Jesuit ahead of him. The Jesuit is met with a trumpet player, a Bentley with driver, and a choir of angels with flowers; he is shown a picture of his new oceanside home with its own golf course attached, and off they go. The Franciscan takes it all in. When it comes to his turn, St. Peter gives him a map of Heaven and the keys to his third-floor walk-up. The Franciscan pauses and says: "Could you just check that the names are correct? I let the Jesuit in ahead of me and maybe there was a mixup." St. Peter's eyes narrow. "We don't make mistakes here, father. What you may need to know is that the Franciscans are everywhere up here and it's been a long time since the last Jesuit made it.