November 26, 2016 — Jesuit Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, died in Beirut, Lebanon, today. He was 87, just four days shy of his 88th birthday. He was a Jesuit for 68 years and a priest for 55, and he served as Superior General from 1983 to 2008.
Fr. Kolvenbach was born in Druten, Netherlands, in 1928. He lived most of his teen years during the German occupation of the Netherlands. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1948 and did his early Jesuit studies at a college in Nijmegen, Netherlands.
He was ordained to the priesthood in Beirut on June 29, 1961. He earned his doctorate in sacred theology from the Jesuit-run St. Joseph University in Beirut and studied linguistics at the Sorbonne and the University of the Hague.
Fr. Kolvenbach served as a both a professor of linguistics at St. Joseph University and as vice-provincial of the Jesuits’ Near East Vice-Province, which includes Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. In 1981 he was appointed as rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, a position he held until his election as Superior General in 1983.
As Superior General, Fr. Kolvenbach visited as many Jesuit provinces and individual Jesuits as he could. In 1995 he directed the Jesuits’ General Congregation 34, which addressed issues including the mission of the Society in the modern world.
Speaking to America magazine, Father Timothy P. Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., reflected on Fr. Kolvenbach’s legacy. “The first time that I met Fr. Kolvenbach was as a scholastic in the mid ’80s. During a question and answer session, a member of the province went to an open microphone and said, ‘Fr. General I have a difficult question for you.’ Fr. Kolvenbach responded, ‘Difficult for me or difficult for you?’ He had this uncanny ability to cut to the heart of the matter with extraordinary confidence and wit. He governed the Society for a quarter of a century during a critical period in our history. His words and legacy will inspire generations to come.”
In February 2006, Fr. Kolvenbach informed the members of the Society of Jesus of his intention, with the consent of Pope Benedict XVI, to step down. His resignation was accepted at General Congregation 35 in 2008. Upon retirement Fr. Kolvenbach returned to Beirut, making his home in a Jesuit community, where he served as assistant librarian.