Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, concluded a two-week visit with the Jesuits in the United States on Oct. 12. This marked Fr. Nicolás’ second official trip to the U.S. since he was elected Superior General in 2008. Fr. Nicolás, 77, had a full schedule on a trip that took him to Boston, New York, St. Louis and Chicago and included a range of activities from talking with Jesuit scholastics to visiting a Jesuit high school to attending a meeting with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
In all of his meetings, Father General encouraged Jesuits to seek greater depth and avoid distraction. “How do we face the frontiers? How do we respond to problems of war, poverty and violence? How can we help reduce human suffering? The Society of Jesus has always had the capacity to move and respond where the needs are greatest. There’s a revolution taking place in education, and we need to be there and we need to use our knowledge and resources to help educate the poor.”
Fr. Nicolás’ visit began in Boston, where he met with Jesuit and lay faculty members at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (BC-STM). Jesuit Father James Gartland, rector of the Blessed Peter Faber Jesuit Community at BC-STM, said that Fr. Nicolás’ message to the faculty was that the church needs Jesuits who are formed for the intellectual life — men of great depth.
Fr. Gartland also said that Fr. Nicolás spoke about a universal vocation. “We don’t enter just a province, we enter the Society of Jesus. Being available in a universal way really calls for us to be creative, and to be creative we need to be men of prayer,” said Fr. Gartland. “So he was really inviting us in terms of our ongoing formation to meet the needs of the church and the world.”
While in Boston, Fr. Nicolás also met with 55 Jesuit scholastics, from over 20 different countries. According to Fr. Gartland, the scholastics were both edified and inspired by him. “He’s down-to-earth and humble,” said Fr. Gartland. “He spent two hours at breakfast talking to scholastics as they woke up. I joked with him that he’s going to leave the States several pounds heavier.”
Fr. Nicolás also visited Campion Center in Weston, Mass., where he took time to visit every room in the Health Center where the New England Province’s infirm and elderly Jesuits live. Before departing for New York, Fr. Nicolás celebrated the Final Vows Mass for Jesuit Father John Siberski at Campion. He then enjoyed lunch there, visiting with many Jesuits who stopped by his table, according to Jesuit Father Joseph Appleyard, socius and executive assistant to the provincial of the New England Province. “Everyone was charmed by his sense of humor and openness,” said Fr. Appleyard.
During his two days in New York, Fr. Nicolás celebrated the Eucharist with 150 Jesuits, lay directors of works and province staff, met with Jesuits in formation and visited Jesuits at the province infirmary.
Jesuit Father Thomas Scirghi, rector of the Jesuit Community at Spellman Hall at Fordham University, said Fr. Nicolás “encourages us to go deep in our prayer, in our work and in our study, and this is what we can offer to the church as a whole and to the world.”
“One problem he sees for Jesuits is that many wear too many hats. This is part of what we have to deal with. The danger there is it keeps you on the surface and prevents you from plunging deeply into any one type of work. He cautioned us that we need to be aware of that,” Fr. Scirghi said.
Fr. Nicolás ended on a hopeful note, according to Fr. Scirghi, saying that God is working inside of people already and the Gospel makes people free. “He [Fr. Nicolás] sees the role of Jesuits — as preachers, as teachers and as spiritual directors — acknowledging the presence of God in each person we meet and with the Gospel message we are able to free them,” said Fr. Scirghi.
Fr. Nicolás’ two days in St. Louis included lunch with Archbishop Robert Carlson and Mass with 30 Jesuits in first studies. He also met with novices and attended a reception with Jesuits, directors of province works and provincial assistants in the Missouri Province.
“Overall, for the short time he was here in St. Louis, he had an incredible impact on the various groups he met, including novices and scholastics. He was very personable and warm and there was a prayerful tone to the visit,” said Jesuit Father Ronald Mercier, rector of Bellarmine House of Studies in St. Louis who Fr. Nicolás recently named as the first provincial of the new U.S. Central and Southern Province — a unification of the New Orleans and Missouri Provinces.
For Fr. Mercier, knowing he will become a provincial in July 2014, parts of Fr. Nicolás’ message took on special significance. “We’ve done great things in terms of the apostolates but our world is changing both in the U.S. and beyond, and we have to ask how to respond,” Fr. Mercier said.
Fr. Mercier said Father General also reminded Jesuits to be careful of paying too much attention to success. “Very often we measure ourselves in terms of success, and that the real concern is about how Christ is present and to focus on Christ,” said Fr. Mercier. “As incoming provincial, that’s a good thing.”
The last leg of his U.S. trip took Fr. Nicolás to the Windy City, where he spent time with all nine U.S. Jesuit provincials and the two provincials from Canada.
During his conversations with provincials, Father General spoke about how grateful he was that the U.S. visit afforded him the opportunity to meet with so many young Jesuits in formation and with lay collaborators who embrace the Jesuit mission, saying he is “looking forward to new forms of collaboration at our institutions.”
Fr. Nicolás also made visits to Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill., met with Chicago’s Archbishop, Francis Cardinal George, OMI, and attended an Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities meeting, which marked the first time he met the board chairs for each of the 28 U.S. schools. He also celebrated the Eucharist and dined with Jesuit scholastics at Loyola University Chicago.
“I felt really privileged that we had that much time with him,” said Jesuit scholastic Marcos Gonzales. “We were able to hear him preach and socialize with him at dinner and had a Q&A session.”
Jesuit scholastic Tim Casey said the scholastics were impressed by Fr. Nicolás' honesty, sincerity and his direct way of speaking to them. “Fr. Nicolás reminded us that to be good Jesuits we are called to be men of intellectual and spiritual depth,” said Casey.
“In order to get outside ourselves like Christ did, we have to be men of prayer and integrate that prayer into our lives. It’s not something solitary — it’s something that feeds everything else we do,” said Casey.
Gonzales also appreciated Fr. Nicolás’ insights and found them particularly relevant to his life as a scholastic. “In studies it’s easy to get distracted with all the different aspects of life and being back on a college campus. I have to remember to be focused and rooted and in Jesus,” he said.
As his trip wound down, Fr. Nicolás was still going strong. Before his flight departed for Rome, he met with Jesuits from the Chicago-Detroit and Wisconsin Provinces and had breakfast and a Q&A session with Jesuit novices.
One Jesuit told Fr. Mercier that Father General gave him a deep sense of hope for the future. It’s clear every person Fr. Nicolás met along his U.S. journey felt the same.
Photos by Thomas Rochford, SJ, Kenneth A. Homan, SJ, P.J. Williams and Bruce Powell and courtesy of the Chicago-Detroit, New York and New England Provinces of the Society of Jesus.