A Great Man Has Died: Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, R.I.P.

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach,S.J., right, pictured at GC 25 in 2008.

Word has reached the Jesuit Curia in Rome that a great man has died. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., the Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1983-2008 has died in Beirut. After a tumultuous few years under the papacy of St. John Paul II, Father Kolvenbach restored a sense of equilibrium between the society and the Vatican, with a deft and diplomatic hand. What the society owes him, then, is beyond measure.

But for me the most moving part of his generalate came in how he left it. He was the first Jesuit Superior General to resign, and many say his resignation paved the way for Pope Benedict XVI's resignation. After he was replaced by Father Adolfo Nicolás, he was asked what he would do next. Whatever my superiors ask me to, he said. 
 
In the end, he became assistant librarian at the Université of Saint-Joseph in Beirut. I often told reporters that a great story could be written about how one of the most powerful men in the church was now working as an assistant librarian. "But it would never get written," said someone who knew him well. "Why not?" I asked. "He would never want to talk about himself. He's far too humble."
 
In 1988 he came to our novitiate in Boston as part of a larger visit to American Jesuits. Each novice was supposed to ask Father General one question. I said, "Father General, how should we increase vocations?" I thought he'd talk about more advertising, more recruiting or more vocation directors. Instead he said, "Live your own vocation joyfully!"
 
Rest in peace, Father Kolvenbach.
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The latest from america

 A photo panel shows Pennsylvania Bishops Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg, David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown, Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg and Lawrence T. Persico of Erie. The Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report Aug. 14 on a months-long investigation into abuse claims spanning a 70-year period in the six dioceses. (CNS photo/courtesy of the dioceses)
The state’s attorney general said that his office’s two-year investigation identified 301 priests who abused children and more than 1,000 victims.
One of the leading novelists of our age on faith, fiction and his distrust of religious institutions.
James T. KeaneAugust 14, 2018
Panel members Ivor Frank and Alexis Jay at a public hearing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (courtesy of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse)
The new report finds evidence of appalling sexual and physical mistreatment of students as young as 7, as well as a culture of secrecy, at two abbey schools.
David StewartAugust 14, 2018
The Gospel calls on all of us to get past “analysis paralysis,” where direct action is always put off in favor of more research and discernment.
Mary M. McConnahaAugust 14, 2018