Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Remembering Father Kolvenbach.

In spite of major events like the U.S. presidential election, this blog has been silent over the past month as I contend with various academic projects. I expect to remain busy in the coming weeks, but I think it's important to write here with some news that touches in a significant way upon my life as a Jesuit: Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, died on Saturday in Beirut at the age of 87. Father Kolvenbach was General of the Society when I entered the novitiate and resigned his office while I was in philosophy studies, meaning that my earliest years as a Jesuit took place during his generalate. Though I've seen the election of two superiors general since then - Father Adolfo Nicolás in 2008 and, last month, Father Arturo Sosa - the fact that Father Kolvenbach was the first General of my Jesuit life gives him a special place in my heart and memory.

As Superior General of the Society from 1983 to 2008, Father Kolvenbach led the Society of Jesus through a period of great challenge and opportunity. Elected in the aftermath of Pope John Paul II's intervention into the governance of the Order, Father Kolvenbach applied the diplomatic finesse and tact he had honed as a missionary in war-torn Lebanon to the task of restoring trust between the Holy See and the Society. In his twenty-five years as General, Kolvenbach faced the challenge of changing demographics as the number of Jesuits in Europe and North America fell and vocations boomed in Africa and Asia and responded to new geopolitical realities as the fall of the Iron Curtain gave the Society greater freedom of action in the former Soviet bloc.

Though the General of the Society is elected for life, as he reached his ninth decade Father Kolvenbach sought and received permission from Pope Benedict XVI to resign his office and allow for the election of a new General. Returning to Beirut after his resignation, Father Kolvenbach quietly resumed the scholarly study of Armenian linguistics and literature that had occupied him before he was called to positions of leadership in the Society. Always humble and unassuming, Father Kolvenbach reportedly responded to the election a few weeks ago of Father Arturo Sosa as the new Jesuit general not by offering his own advice or personal opinion but by sending his successor a one-sentence note promising prayers.

As I pray for the repose of Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, I also pray also that many other Jesuits will be inspired to emulate his exemplary characteristics - brilliance balanced by humility, a sharp memory matched by great discretion, and a notable simplicity of life combined with gracious generosity. May his memory be eternal! AMDG.


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