More on the New Father General

(Above: Father Kolvenbach defers to Father General in the Jesuit Curia dining room. Photo: Don Doll, S.J.) Yesterday the Catholic world was introduced to the new Jesuit Superior General through a variety of resources: conversations with Jesuits who have known him (he has been described to me as "warm," "wise," "serene," and having a "terrific sense of humor."), news reports (Time magazine and John Allen have reported on some interesting history between Father Nicolas and the Vatican), and web resources like Creighton University’s GC 35 website, a boon to anyone following the Congregation, with regular photo updates by Don Doll, S.J., a professional photographer. Perhaps most noticed by Jesuits are the obvious similarities between Pedro Arrupe (also a Spaniard, also a missionary, also a former Provincial of Japan) and Father Nicolas. Somewhat less well known is Father General’s pastoral experience. As Fernando Franco, S.J., reported, "After this stint in ’power’ [serving as Provincial from 1993-1999] he spent three years working in a poor immigrant parish in Tokyo. His work was difficult but he was able to help thousands of Philippine and Asian immigrants and gets a first-hand experience of their suffering. In a way, his love for the poor and downtrodden was able to become now, after so many years, his most important ministry." My favorite quote from the last few days: Thomas Smolich, S.J., head of the U.S. Jesuit Conference: "The electors chose the man God had in mind... And, at 71 years old, Nicolás walks faster than anyone I’ve ever seen." Pictured above are the rooms of St. Ignatius Loyola in Rome. Today, as the communique from Rome described, before the Mass of Thanksgiving, Father General, accompanied by four electors and a deacon, entered the rooms. In the place where St. Ignatius wrote the Constitutions, the group paused for a moment of silent prayer. A deacon then proclaimed the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 2: 8-12): "You must not be called ’teacher’ for you are all brothers and have only one Teacher...Nor should be called ’leader’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant." The most senior member of the electors then turned to Father General and reminded him of the kind of person Part IX of Constitutions says the Superior General ought to be. [See post below.] In the rooms where Saint Ignatius wrote these words, they held especially poignant meaning. At the end of this brief ceremony, Father General and those who accompanied him began the procession into the Gesù Church for the Mass of Thanksgiving. During his homily Father Nicola said, "This is not a message for the world, but a simple homily from a fellow Christian." Some other resources: David Schultenover, S.J., is a delegate of the Wisconsin Province. Here are his reflections on the day of the election. " Schultenover on the scene" The U.S. Jesuit website has gathered together reflections and reports from the U.S. Provincials who served as delegates to the Congregation: " Reflections from the U.S. Provincials" Don Doll’s moving photos of the election and its aftermath: " Election Day Photos " In a candid interview before the Congregation, Father Nicolas expressed his hopes for GC 35, on an Australian Jesuit website: "Father Nicolas on the Congregation " About the remoteness of East Asia, he says, "There is more space for experimenting, for trying, for thinking and exchanging." Not a bad recipe for the Church as a whole. James Martin, S.J.
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10 years 7 months ago
Peter, A few of those at the Congregation have noted, in their reflections and letters to their Provinces, Father General's age (which means it was probably taken into account), but since the delegates are sworn to secrecy about their discussions, they won't be too chatty about it. Overall, it would seem to me, at least from my vantage point, that his age was certainly noted and considered, but his strengths overwhelmed any concern about his age. Everyone who has spoken publicly about Father Nicolas speaks of his holiness, his intelligence, and his zeal. That, and that he was clearly, as one delegate said, "the optimal choice." On the other hand, perhaps the Delegates felt that a shorter Generalate would not be a bad thing in itself. But it's hard to know what went on in the minds of the Delegates. Personally, I think that he's a superb choice, and it would have been unfortunate if the Society didn't avail itself of his leadership simply because of his advanced age. But we will see what Providence has in store!
10 years 7 months ago
I answered my own question! In the 20th century, at least, the average age of an incoming Father General was just under 55 years old. Kolvenbach (55); Arrupe (58); Jassens (57); Ledochowski (49)
10 years 7 months ago
At 71, is the new Father General considered "old"? How does the new Father General's age compare to his predecessors'? After Benedict's election (and from history books I know after John XXIII's too) observers suggested that the electors chose an older leader as a "transitional" figure, unable, for the sheer lack of time, to make as great an impression on the life of the Church as his predecessor. Is any of that at work here?

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