Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Company Is Summoned – Jesuits Call GC36 To Elect Next General

Arguably the most prominent order in the global church – and now, as never before, the community that produced the "White Pope" – in a surprise move, today the Jesuit Curia announced that the Society's 36th General Congregation will be held "during the final months of 2016."

The supreme gathering of the Company, the GC is automatically convoked upon the vacancy of the office of Superior General, or otherwise when the Father-General is compelled to bring significant matters for the discernment of the wider Society. In this instance, according to a letter to the Company obtained by Whispers, Fr Adolfo Nicolas disclosed that – for the second time running – the Congregation will be one to elect a successor to St Ignatius of Loyola.

"Reflecting on the coming years, I have reached the personal conviction that I should take the needed steps towards submitting my resignation to a General Congregation," Nicolás said, adding that he had already "obtain[ed] the initial approval of the Assistants ad providentiam [i.e. his top aides] and... informed his Holiness Pope Francis" – the first Jesuit in the Society's almost 500-year history to become bishop of Rome. (Famously, Francis made the first of his surprise phone calls to the Jesuit headquarters on Borgo Santo Spirito to speak to Father-General.)

Usually announced 18-24 months in advance, the last of the gatherings was called in early 2006 and held in January 2008, when Peter-Hans Kolvenbach – the 28th successor of Ignatius – became the first Father-General ever to resign in good health after a 25-year tenure, and the Spanish-born Nicolás, then the Company's Asian head, was elected in his stead.

By the time of GC36, Nicolás will be some months after his 80th birthday, the same milestone Kolvenbach was approaching when he handed over the reins.

Famed for their efforts in education and the missions, the Society of Jesus is the global church's largest order of men, comprising some 17,000 priests and brothers in over 100 provinces worldwide. While the community is experiencing marked growth in the global south – above all in Asia – the US Jesuits are currently in the midst of a significant consolidation, merging their prior configuration of ten provinces to four. At the same time, however, at least some Jesuit vocations offices have experienced an uptick of interest in the wake of Francis' election.

In its English translation, below is the full text of Nicolas' letter to the Company as circulated to the Jesuits this morning:

Communication of General Congregation 36

Dear Brothers,

P .C. [Pax Christi]

Several years have passed since my election as Superior General of the Society and I have recently reached the age of 78. Reflecting on the coming years, I have reached the personal conviction that I should take the needed steps towards submitting my resignation to a General Congregation. After obtaining the initial approval of the Assistants ad providentiam and having informed his Holiness Pope Francis, I formally consulted the Assistants ad providentiam and the Provincials, as our law requires (NC 362). The result of the consultation is favorable towards the convening of a General Congregation.

After having discussed the matter with my Council, through this letter I wish to inform the whole Society that, towards the end of this year, I will convoke the 36th General Congregation, to be held during the final months of the year 2016.

Therefore, the meeting of Provincials originally scheduled for January 2015 in Yogyakarta and convoked on 12 March of this year (Circular Letter 2014/03) is canceled.

Let us ask Our Lady of the Way to place the Society with Her Son on this journey of discernment that we now begin.

Fraternally yours in the Lord,

Adolfo Nicolás, S.I.
Superior General