Company -- a rich word with strong images and warm associations. It speaks of friends and guests, of comradeship in struggle. It means business, but is not so intimidating as corporation or so exclusive as limited. It has military overtones that might be unpleasant, but is less fearsome that regiment or battalion. It is properly used of groups of performing artists, of members of certain church groups, or even of widgeons. Company is specific but flexible, strong but welcoming.
Company is part of our religious language. Various English bibles refer to the company of prophets, to the company of the apostles, or the company of early Christians. An early Christian hymn sings of the "company of angels" ("All Glory, Laud, and Honor"). Prayers of the Missal refer to the great company of the saints (Prefaces for All Saints Day and for Holy Men and Women).
Company is also an important Jesuit word. St. Ignatius strongly wanted his group to be known as the Company of Jesus, recalling both his own military background and the military metaphor for following Christ in the struggle of good against evil. And while the Jesuit order was called Societas in Latin (thus 'society' in English), the equivalent of company was retained in many European vernaculars.
A company is not a casual association, but a group of persons joined in common work or purpose or achievement. The root of company refers to persons who share bread -- a powerful ancient symbol of life; companions are persons whose lives intertwine, whose lives depend upon one another. In the American Jesuit experience, this company reaches beyond the Society of Jesus, even beyond the collaborators in Jesuit ministry. It includes students and alumni, parishioners and retreatants; it includes persons who see our pictures and read our words and hear our voices and our music. And it includes the generous friends who are interested in all Jesuit ministries and who support them. Company hopes to tell this story and to join these people together; it hopes to inspire and unify all who are part of Jesuit work; and it hopes finally to do its part in building God's kingdom and in bringing others to share the Lord's gift to us, the bread of his own life.
(From the first issue of Company, Fall 1983.)