Historically, the Jesuits focused on three major activities: promoting Catholicism, education and missionary work. Many Jesuits also dedicated themselves to charitable work, such as helping the sick.
The Jesuits are officially known as the Society of Jesus. A Spanish soldier named Ignatius of Loyola founded the order in the 1534 after he was wounded in battle and subsequently dedicated his life to religion. The order spread quickly in the first years of existence, largely as a reaction to the Reformation. Early Jesuits were concerned with preserving Catholic teachings and stopping the spread of Protestantism. Jesuits played a large role in the Spanish Inquisition and were suspected in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England. However, most of the order's religious activities centered on spreading the teachings of the Catholic church.
Education played a central role in Jesuit activities from an early period in the organization's existence. Jesuit schools not only spread religious teachings, but also played a large role in developing modern teaching methods and the practice of standardizing educational curriculum. The Jesuits founded hundreds of schools and colleges in Europe over the first two centuries of its existence and incorporated education into its missionary activities.
Missionary work was another central activity of the Society of Jesus. The order played a central role in colonialism, founding missions in North America, South America, Asia and Africa. These missions were largely concerned with converting local populations to Catholicism. However, they were also instrumental in documenting the natural history, setting up communities and spreading educational practices in colonies where they worked.
Many Jesuits also turned to charity and social work in Europe. In addition, they supported the arts as a means of increasing the influence of the order.