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James T. KeaneMarch 12, 2024
Pope John Paul II with Pedro Arrupe, S.J., in a 1991 photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Jesuits Global)

The Society of Jesus announced on Feb. 29, 2024, that the sainthood cause of Servant of God Pedro Arrupe, S.J., is moving forward. The “diocesan phase” of the process is expected to conclude in the next few months, when a team of researchers will forward “ten thousand pages of unpublished texts of Fr. Arrupe and printed material relating to his life and his reputation for holiness” to the ecclesiastical tribunal of the Vicariate of Rome, according to a communique from the Jesuit Curia in Rome.

The next step will be the “Roman phase” of Arrupe’s cause, when the collected materials attesting to his sanctity are sent to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican for review. What will follow—including a process by which people who prayed for his intercession are interviewed in order to establish if a miracle occurred—is likely the passage of many years before the 28th superior general of the Society of Jesus is raised to the altars. The process thus far, however, has been a speedier one than usual: Arrupe was only declared a “Servant of God” in 2018.

This particular path to sainthood has taken its own turns. Arrupe, called “the most controversial Jesuit of the last half-century” by Crux in 2019, oversaw the Jesuits during a period of rapid change inside and outside the order—and no small amount of controversy. “Not since Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits in 1773 had the order found itself in the eye of the storm quite like it did during Arrupe’s tenure,” Crux noted. Less measured was an author in Crisis Magazine in 2022 (sorry, Google it yourself), who claimed that under Arrupe, the Jesuits “leapt upon the careening juggernaut of Marxism and made it the raison d’être of their sprawling educational network.”

The careening juggernaut of Marxism? I dunno: Most of the dudes who went to my Jesuit high school are lawyers or bankers.

So then, who was Pedro Arrupe? And why do people have such strong opinions about him? Isn’t this the sweet guy who gave us that lovely ferverino encouraging us all to “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything”?

Born in 1907 in Bilbao, Spain, Pedro Arrupe entered the Society of Jesus in 1927. After the Jesuits were expelled from Spain (in 1932 this time, but the Jesuits are never not being expelled from Spain), he completed his religious formation in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States. Ordained in 1936 (in Kansas!), he was assigned to missionary work in Japan two years later. He was briefly imprisoned in 1941 on suspicion of espionage by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, spending 33 days in prison.

Though countless column inches have been devoted to Arrupe in America over the years, I found an unexpected treasure in our archives last week: an essay by Arrupe from May 21, 1938, when he was living in Kansas, about the 500 Spanish children who had been forcibly taken to Mexico during the Spanish Civil War. (Those who are sure that Arrupe was a Marxist might be surprised by lines such as “if Communism continues to develop its whole plan, it will form a group of ideologues whom their Fatherland and their families can only disavow and even repudiate.”) The young priest was identified by America as “Peter Arrupe,” because God forbid we not anglicize everything, and his essay was followed by one from another Jesuit who would gain some fame—and infamy—in the years to come: the literary editor, Leonard Feeney, S.J.

Arrupe eventually became the master of novices at the Jesuit novitiate in Hiroshima, and so was present on Aug. 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the atomic bomb that destroyed the city. Arrupe, who called the attack “a permanent experience outside of history, engraved on my memory,” turned the novitiate into a makeshift hospital. (To view a slideshow video by America associate editor Colleen Dulle of the destruction and hear some of Arrupe’s Hiroshima diary—read by former editor in chief Matt Malone, S.J.—click here.)

In 1958, Arrupe became the provincial superior of all the Jesuits in Japan, an international apostolate that included many Americans, Germans and Spaniards in addition to Japanese vocations. Many years ago, I stayed in the Jesuit community at Sophia University in Tokyo and was surprised by some of the descriptions of Arrupe as a provincial: He was remembered by many as a strict, no-nonsense superior, not the sort of fellow who might pen “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” (Which, in fact, he didn’t write.)

Arrupe was elected superior general of the Society of Jesus in 1965, just a few short months before the close of the Second Vatican Council. He held the post until 1983, during which time he also served five terms as president of the Union of Religious Superiors General. During his tenure, many Jesuits adopted a social justice-oriented inflection of the traditional Jesuit charism, particularly after the 32nd General Congregation in 1974-75, where the Jesuits passed (among other decrees) “Decree 4: Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice,” which served as something of a blueprint for Jesuit apostolic activity for many years after.

That new direction for the Jesuits led to occasional tensions with Pope Paul VI, as well as criticism from more traditional elements in the Catholic Church throughout the 1970s.

In 1981, Arrupe suffered a stroke and eventually lost most of his ability to speak. When he resigned as superior general soon after, Pope John Paul II intervened in the internal governance of the Society of Jesus and suspended the process by which they would elect a new superior (widely expected to be Arrupe’s recommended choice, Vincent O’Keefe, S.J., an American). Instead, the pope appointed two other Jesuits, Paola Dezza and Giuseppe Pittau, to be his personal delegates and oversee the Society.

Two years later, in September 1983, the Jesuits were allowed to pick Arrupe’s successor at General Congregation 33, and elected Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., as the new Jesuit superior general. Arrupe lived another eight years; Pope John Paul II visited him in the Jesuit infirmary (pictured above) shortly before Arrupe’s death on Feb. 5, 1991.

Arrupe’s influence on the Society of Jesus (and many other Ignatian-inspired apostolic works) can be seen in the countless ministries, schools, residences and other Jesuit initiatives that bear his name today, as well as in the many phrases and sayings attributed to him. His 1973 address to Jesuit educators and students inspired a mantra used at Jesuit high schools and colleges worldwide: “Men and women for others.” Just recently, associate editor Molly Cahill wrote an essay for America about the value of the phrase to many Jesuit school alums.

Kenneth Woodward, the former religion editor of Newsweek and the author of Making Saints, gave some of the background to the phrase in 2018. It was coined by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945. “In his letters from prison, Bonhoeffer wrestled with how Jesus should be understood in ‘a world come of age’—a world, he thought, no longer had need of religion,” Woodward told America. “In that context, he thought Jesus would be best understood as ‘the man for others,’ and that Christians should conduct themselves accordingly as people ‘for others.’” Arrupe was introduced to Bonhoeffer’s phrase, Woodward said, by the aforementioned Vincent O’Keefe, S.J.

Some notable articles about this saint-in-progress include interviews by former America associate editor Jim McDermott with three Jesuits who knew Arrupe well and worked with him for many years. In 1997, Vincent O’Keefe himself wrote of Arrupe’s “creative fidelity,” and in 2007, Kevin Burke, S.J. (who also edited Pedro Arrupe: Essential Writings) contributed an essay on Arrupe’s recovery of a “mysticism of open eyes.

In that essay, Burke wrote of Arrupe’s appearance at General Congregation 33 in 1983. Feeble and no longer able to speak, Arrupe looked on as his now-famous “Hands of God” reflection was read aloud on his behalf:

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.

“Pedro Arrupe ended where he began, in love with God,” Burke concluded. “That, above all, is why we celebrate him.”




Our poetry selection for this week is “Triduum: Substance vs. Accidents,” by Tristan MacDonald. Readers can view all of America’s published poems here.

Also, from the Catholic Book Club: We are reading Come Forth: The Promise of Jesus’s Greatest Miracle, by James Martin, S.J. Click here to watch a livestream with Father Martin about the book or here to sign up for our Facebook discussion group.

In this space every week, America features reviews of and literary commentary on one particular writer or group of writers (both new and old; our archives span more than a century), as well as poetry and other offerings from America Media. We hope this will give us a chance to provide you with more in-depth coverage of our literary offerings. It also allows us to alert digital subscribers to some of our online content that doesn’t make it into our newsletters.

Other Catholic Book Club columns:

The spiritual depths of Toni Morrison

What’s all the fuss about Teilhard de Chardin?

Moira Walsh and the art of a brutal movie review

​​Who’s in hell? Hans Urs von Balthasar had thoughts.

Happy reading!

James T. Keane

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