VATICAN CITY — The Jesuits elected their first-ever Latin American leader Friday, following in the footsteps of the cardinals who elected the Jesuit Pope Francis as history’s first Latin American pope.

A gathering of Jesuit priests from around the world on Friday elected the Rev. Arturo Sosa of Venezuela to replace the retiring Rev. Adolfo Nicolas of Spain as father general.

The Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are formally known, is the largest religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. It currently counts some 16,740 members, including priests, brothers, lay members and novitiates.

Francis joined the congregation as a teenager in his native Argentina. He led the Jesuits in Argentina as a young priest and became both the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to ever be elected pope in 2013.

Since its foundation in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits have had European leaders as their superior. But like the Catholic Church as a whole, the congregation counts a sizeable presence in Latin America and is growing most in the developing world, particularly Asia and Africa.

The Jesuits have been meeting since the beginning of the month to chart their future after Nicolas announced his retirement. Prior to Sosa’s election, the 215 electors conducted four days of “murmuraciones,” the one-on-one conversations the Jesuits use to discern who should be their next leader.

Sosa, 67, had been in charge of the Jesuits’ international houses and works in Rome, overseeing the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Vatican Observatory and other educational centers.

Officials said they expected Francis would greet the new father general and members of the general congregation.