The Jesuits in 2016: A Year in Review

December 30, 2016 — It was a historic year for the Society of Jesus, as Jesuit delegates gathered for a General Congregation in Rome, only the 36th in the Society’s 476-year history. During the congregation, the Jesuits elected their 31st Superior General, Venezuelan Father Arturo Sosa, SJ, the order’s first leader from Latin America. While the congregation was a highlight for the Society, the year was marked by many other noteworthy moments.

The year began — and ended — with the Jesuits continuing to be a voice for the undocumented. In early January, the Jesuits of Canada and the U.S. issued a statement denouncing the Obama administration’s decision to conduct nationwide raids on people who have fled Central America. In November, in response to the presidential election, 27 U.S. Jesuit college and university presidents released a statement reaffirming their commitment “to protect to the fullest extent of the law undocumented students on our campuses.”

2016 Mass for Life

Also in January, the Society celebrated the annual Jesuit Mass for Life in Washington, D.C. Students attending Jesuit high schools, colleges and universities from across the country braved an oncoming winter storm to attend the event, timed to coincide with the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

In February, Pope Francis visited Mexico for a historic six-day visit to the country, culminating with an outdoor Mass in Ciudad Juárez, on Mexico’s northern border. During the Mass, Pope Francis highlighted the plight of immigrants: “The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want to measure instead with names, stories and families.”

The pope  had a full  year — he also released his first children’s book, “Dear Pope Francis,” in February. The book’s Jesuit-run publisher Loyola Press selected 30 letters with questions from kids for the pope to answer, such as "What did God do before the world was made?" and “Do you know why some parents argue with each other?”

The Society lost an esteemed  colleague on March 3, when Berta Cáceres, a Honduran activist who fought for indigenous and environmental rights, was murdered in Honduras at age 44. The Jesuits of Canada and the U.S. joined with hundreds of other faith and advocacy groups in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for justice for her death.

Pope Francis once again proved to be an example of compassion the whole world can follow when he visited refugees in Lesbos, Greece, in April. His trip ended with him offering 12 Syrian Muslims safe passage to Italy. The Vatican assumed financial responsibility for the three families, who are assisted by the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio.

In April, over 90 representatives of Jesuit social ministries from more than a dozen countries gathered in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Participants, representing 12 Jesuit provinces, discussed social justice issues, including the environment, crime and migration. The following month, then-Father General Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, visited El Salvador, where he met with Jesuit provincials from the U.S., Canada and Latin America, calling on Jesuits to be dedicated to and prepared for mission.

In late April, a devastating earthquake rocked Ecuador and the Jesuits immediately took action. Father Gilberto Freire, SJ, provincial of the Ecuadoran Jesuit Province, announced a Jesuit-led plan to provide housing and relief for families in the affected coastal areas.

The environment continued to be a priority for the church, and in June, the Jesuits highlighted how their schools and ministries were living out Laudato Si’ one year after the publication of the pope’s encyclical about caring for the Earth. From climate change conferences to carbon challenges, the call to action was enthusiastically welcomed across the Jesuit network.

Over the summer, the Jesuits celebrated the ordination of 20 new priests in the United States, Canada and Haiti. The diverse group of Jesuits included Fr. Javier Díaz, SJ, a physician born and raised in Costa Rica, and Fr. Roy Joseph, SJ, the first American Jesuit to be ordained a bi-ritual priest in both the Syro-Malabar and Latin rites.

More than 2,000 pilgrims gathered in Lódz, Poland, in July for MAGIS 2016, a Jesuit program of service and faith-sharing preceding World Youth Day. After six days of Ignatian experiments, pilgrims journeyed on to join two million others at World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.

At the end of the summer, the Society welcomed 47 new Jesuit novices in Canada, Haiti and the U.S., the largest group of novices in the last 10 years. “The increasing number of novices is always an encouraging sign that faith is alive in a new generation,” said Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S.

On October 2, 215 Jesuits from around the world gathered in Rome for General Congregation 36. At the congregation, the supreme governing body of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, resigned as Superior General; Fr.  Arturo Sosa Abascal, SJ, of Venezuela was elected the 31st Superior General; and Pope Francis visited and addressed the congregation all before the meeting’s conclusion on Nov. 12.

In 2016, many Jesuits were honored for their contributions to society, including Father Greg Boyle, SJ, named the James Beard Humanitarian of the Year; Father Michael Garanzini, SJ, honored with the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award; and Father John O’Malley, SJ, who received the Centennial Medal  from Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the school’s highest honor.

Additionally, Father Thomas Reese, SJ, was elected Chair of U.S. Religious Freedom Commission, and Father Thomas Smolich, SJ, International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service, received the CRISPAZ Peace Award. Father James Martin, SJ received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in recognition of his ministry of communication to expand the dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church. He was also honored with the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from Support Our Aging Religious (SOAR) for his leadership in the Catholic community.

The Society mourned a number of Jesuits who passed away in 2016. Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, died in Beirut, Lebanon, on Nov. 29 at age 87. Father Daniel Berrigan, SJ, a peace activist and acclaimed writer, died on April 30 in New York City at age 94.

Some left us too early, including Father Gerard L. Stockhausen, SJ, who served as the Socius and Executive Secretary to the President and Director of Planning for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He died on January 12 at age 66 after a one-year battle with leukemia. Father Raymond R. Fitzgerald, SJ, a Jesuit high school educator and president, died September 17 at age 58 after being diagnosed with ALS in 2014.

Pope Francis blows out candles on a birthday cake. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

The year ended on a joyous note with the celebration of Pope Francis’ 80th birthday on Dec. 17. The pope received birthday wishes from a multitude of people, including President Obama, homeless people and prisoners, and more than 70,000 birthday emails were sent to him. In honor of this milestone, the Jesuits presented 80 reasons to love Pope Francis, ending the year on an uplifting note.

Finally, on Dec. 30, the Feast of the Holy Family, Jesuit parishes released a statement asking their parish communities to consider how they can best respond to the plight of migrants.

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Loyola Institute for Spirituality
Loyola Institute for Spirituality (LIS), founded in 1997, is located in Orange, CA. LIS provides many programs and services for individuals, parishes, and dioceses throughout Southern California and beyond.