Issue Date: December 28, 2007
By RAYMOND A. SCHROTH
Theres a story in the 1892 Jesuit review Woodstock Letters where an older Jesuit tells a younger man who is about to start teaching that the orders schools nationwide the previous year were weak because they had to hire laymen. Now that the faculty are all Jesuits, he says, the secular schools will be coming to the order for advice.
Today, 107 years later, when, although numbers are rising in the developing world, the American Society has shrunk from 8,000 in 1960 to 3,000, Jesuits are turning to lay collaboration and leadership to achieve the Jesuit mission. How to continue doing this will be a central concern of the orders General Congregation, its highest governing body, when it convenes in Rome Jan. 6.
General Congregations -- this is the 35th -- are usually held either to elect a general or when the general, having consulted advisers, convenes one for special reasons.
Some 219 delegates from all over the world, including 27 from the United States, both ex officio and elected, will gather to select a new general to replace Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, 80, the first general in modern times to resign. The rest of the agenda of the meeting indicates that while there may be fewer to carry it out, the Jesuit mission in the future will clearly emphasize justice and environmental issues.
After electing a new general, delegates will consider 262 postulates (proposals), from which the new general and the delegates will set priorities for the new generation. Soon the leadership of Jesuits will belong to men born after the 1960s, with no memories of Vatican II, Vietnam, civil rights marches, the movement in those years of the Jesuit seminaries from remote suburbs into the big cities, and the thrill of turning the altar around and saying Mass in English.
This year the American assistancy ordained only 16 men. By 2021 the 10 geographical provinces will be five. For example, the New England, New York, and Maryland plus the South Carolina and Georgia provinces will all be one.
The new general, says Fr. Howard Gray, former rector of John Carroll University and now adviser to Georgetowns lay president, will be in the mold of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who served from 1965 until 1983 and whose influence and skills set the tone of the modern Society. Kolvenbach has continued Arrupes priorities, while he improved relations with the Vatican by keeping a low personal profile and establishing links between the Jesuit curia and Vatican offices. As a result, Jesuits interviewed for this article do not foresee Jesuit-papal friction, in spite of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzingers role in removing Fr. Thomas Reese as editor of America magazine, the U.S. Jesuits flagship publication. Jesuit Fr. George Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory, describes Benedict XVI as bright and open-minded to people who can match his intellectual acumen.
According to Gray, Coyne, the Whispers in the Loggia Web site and other sources, the delegates will be asking about: Fr. Orlando Torres, a Puerto Rican, now secretary for formation in Rome; Fr. Mark Rotsaert, Belgian president of the European Jesuit Conference; Fr. Lisbert DSousa from India; Fr. Mark Raper, Australian provincial and onetime head of the Jesuit Refugee Service; and possibly Fr. Frederico Lombardi, former head of the Vatican Radio who is now the popes PR man.
They are expected to reaffirm the sometimes controversial statements of Congregations 32-34 on the relationship between faith and justice, inculturation and the Societys relationship with lay men and women. But of the 262 proposals, 42 concern justice, and the next 41 are on ecology, the new generations Vietnam.
Dedication to the environment, said Fr. Roger de la Rosa, a California Jesuit chemist, will move the Society into the 21st century, in dialogue with culture and science. The other issues -- governance and lay collaboration -- are linked. How will new initiatives be received?
The following assessment of what can be expected in the upcoming General Congregation is based on the planning documents, a lecture by historian Jesuit Fr. John Padberg and interviews with a cross section of American Jesuits from different age groups and different parts of the country, including: Frs. Howard Gray, George Coyne, Ross Romero, Paul Mueller, Thomas Greene and Roger de la Rosa -- the last four of whom are young.
Jesuit Fr. Raymond A. Schroth of St. Peters College, Jersey City, N.J., has just published The American Jesuits: A History.
National Catholic Reporter, December 28, 2007
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