The Missionaries of Africa follow the tradition of the ignatian spirituality. Right from the beginning of the Society’s history, the Founder, Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, chose Jesuit priests to initiate the first novices into the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Cardinal Lavigerie had an admiration for the Jesuits and wanted his missionaries to have a practical approach to life and mission, able to unite prayer and action. He wanted them to be “contemplatives in action”, a phrase coined by Jerome Nadal, an early companion of Ignatius.
This summed up the Cardinal’s ideal. He did not want the novice masters to turn White Fathers into Jesuits, but to respect the Society’s apostolic charism and its commitment to community life. The most successful of his Jesuit novice masters was François Terrasse S.J. who taught Lavigerie’s successor as head of the Society, Léon Livinhac, how to contemplate.
Ignatian Spirituality, properly so called, centers on St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. Thesewere the stages of a long retreat, devised by Ignatius, in which the retreatant was confronted in his life by the mystery and call of Jesus Christ. Livinhac, during his long incumbency as Superior General, introduced the Society to the Long Retreat of Saint Ignatius. He sometimes referred to it as a “second novitiate”. In the early years it was difficult to bring missionaries to Algiers for regular retreats of this kind, and Rome, at that time, frowned on the removal of missionaries from their mission stations for lengthy periods.
The Long Retreat of 30 Days, however, became common and was extremely popular. The Missionaries of Africa were expected to make it after several years of missionary life. As a result, it became usual to describe the Society as having an “Ignatian Spirituality”. However, the rediscovery of Ignatian sources and the increasingly broad interpretation given to the Spiritual Exercises after Vatican II, led the 1967 General Chapter to be more cautious and to assert that the Society “draws inspiration” from “Ignatian Spirituality”. The Long Retreat, remains a requirement of preparation for the Missionary Oath and a recommendation for those who have completed some years of missionary life.