Get ready for the start of the Jesuits’ 35th General Congregation, whose first order (or nearly first order) of business will be to elect a new superior general of the worldwide Society of Jesus. The new General will succeed Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, the Dutch Jesuit who has served in the position since 1983. (That’s him, pictured above.) Father Kolvenbach has done a splendid job in helping to smooth out any lingering misunderstandings between Jesuits and the Vatican, while maintaining a clear-eyed vision for the future of the Society. And maintaining his sense of humor, too. The delegates, who were elected (or, in some cases, appointed) by their respective Jesuit provinces (the geographic regional divisions) will begin their deliberations on January 7. The first few days before the election are given over to the "murmuratio" (which is, frankly, one of the best Jesuit phrases around) in which the delegates "murmur" about who might make a good Superior General--since campaigning is strictly verboten. In fact, we take a vow, mandated by St. Ignatius Loyola, to turn in anyone who is caught "ambitioning" for any leadership roles--except novice director and the "minister," the person responsible for the day-to-day physical needs of a local community. It’s a great way to prevent overweening ambition in the Society, at least as far as moving up the ladder goes---though a friend of mine calls it the vow to fink. Overall, the "murmuratio," which is presumably taking place now, is a clever way of surfacing talented men, and helping to speed the process. So who will be the new Father General? Only the Holy Spirit knows. And She’s pretty good at keeping secrets. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the Jesuits elected a man from the developing world, since this is not only the new center of gravity for the Society of Jesus but for the Church. And an election of a developing world General would be interesting as a possible bellwether for the next papal conclave, whenever that will be. To that end, a funny story. A few months ago, a journalist called me about the GC and after asking the requisite questions about history, and so on, asked, not surprisingly, about who might be the kind of men who would be considered potential candidates. So, off the top of my head, I suggested the names of four men who were the type of men who other Jesuits would consider excellent General material, generabili, as it were. They were all of great probity, very prayerful and had extensive international experience, and spoke several languages. But I said that this was just off the top of my head. In any event, a few days later I had those same four names repeated back to me as the "front runners." A few weeks later I had those same four names repeated back to me by two visitors from Europe. And a few days ago I saw those same four names in a newspaper article about the Congregation. Moral of the story: take with a grain, or shaker, of salt, articles that quote knowledgeable sources. One of my Jesuit friends suggested that the new General might be someone few Jesuits in the United States have ever heard of. On the other hand, if any of those men is elected, I will feel inordinately influential! For some fact-based information about the General Congregation, you might check out Creighton University’s great website, with lots of helpful info here: " GC 35 Info"