Sharing the Experience of the Congregation
David Schultenover, S.J.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

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More photos of Fr. Kolvenbach's farewell
from the Official Society Site in Rome

Dave Schultenover, S.J. is a delegate to the Congregation from the Wisconsin Province, in the US Assistancy.

He is a Consultor to the Provincial of the Wisconsin Province and a professor of historical theology at Marquette University.

He is the editor in chief of THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, A Jesuit Sponsored Journal of Theology.


At this point in the general congregation, we begin to witness a cascade of historical events— the passing (or not) of decrees, mandates, and recommendations. Thursday afternoon we passed the first decree of GC 35—on governance. It might have seemed a Pyrrhic victory in that the moderator of the writing group for this document spent several days in the intensive care unit across the street at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit with a heart incident. He quickly recovered, thank God, and returned to the Aula triumphantly to guide the decree through its final stage.

Yesterday we saw two historical events. In the morning we bade a fond and tearful farewell to Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. He heroically sat through his fourth (! I think) general congregation, and yesterday departed for a family visit in Germany before returning to Beirut whence he came in 1981 to be rector at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. Those familiar with Peter-Hans know that he despises fanfare and shies away from social gatherings. So we knew that it would not be easy to find a way to properly honor this man to whom the Society of Jesus owes more than we can say. When he was elected our 29th superior general in 1983, the relationship between the Society of Jesus and the Holy See was at its lowest point since its restoration in 1815 (having been suppressed in 1773). With his election, Peter-Hans was entrusted the daunting task of restoring a trusting relationship with the Holy See. Pope Benedict XVI’s letter of January 10 to Father Kolvenbach and his allocution to the delegates of GC 35 on February 21 are eloquent testimonies that this relationship has been warmly restored.

So yesterday was our last chance to express to Peter-Hans the Society’s profound gratitude. Just after our morning prayer in the Aula, Father General Adolfo Nicolás took the microphone and proceeded gently to clue us all in to what was afoot Copyright, The Society of Jesus— only his closest advisers, it seems, knew what was coming. First, Adolfo gently and wittily roasted Peter-Hans, telling us, among other things, that we have now identified the fastest moving object in the universe: Peter-Hans Kolvenbach exiting the Aula at the end of a session — in a nano-second. Adolfo then testified to our profound debt to Peter-Hans, and ended by presenting him with a gorgeous icon of Mary and Child, as a token of our esteem and affection (in the Middle East presenting an icon is a customary way to express gratitude). As Peter-Hans received the icon and kissed it (according to custom), thunderous applause erupted and lasted 5 to 7 minutes. Copyright, The Society of JesusThere wasn’t a dry eye in the Aula. One who had served for many years on the curia staff said that he had never before seen Peter-Hans moved to tears. It is impossible to capture the wealth of his twenty-five years in office and the enormity of our debt to him. To have witnessed this moment is a singular blessing from God. While we will finish the congregation on Thursday, passing a series of documents, we will all be keenly aware of empty chair no. 207 (assigned by alphabetical order).


Yesterday evening, after having worked a double period on Saturday (we’re usually off Saturday afternoons) to ensure that we complete our work on Thursday morning, we attended a reception in the splendid entrance hall at the Gregorian University, to which the members of all the Jesuit Roman Houses were invited. We were first warmly welcomed by Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, Rector of the Gregorian University. Then Fr. General Nicolás took the microphone, thanked the Gregorian for inviting us, and then surprised most of us by announcing that the new delegate for the Roman houses (equivalent to a provincial) would be Fr. Joseph Daoust, currently president of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. (The GC 35 delegates had been informed in the Aula that afternoon.) I was shocked at this appointment because I did not expect an American to be appointed, and particularly one who does not (yet!) speak Italian (although he’s fluent in Spanish) and is verging on 70 years of age. Age aside, like the election of 72 (soon to be73)-year-old Adolfo Nicolás, many of us agree that this is a great appointment. If Joe can do for the Roman Houses what he has done for JSTB — and we think he can—the future of the Jesuit pontifical institutions of higher learning in Rome is looking brighter than it has in a long, long time. But no pressure, Joe!

David G. Schultenover, S.J.
GC 35 Rome
2 March 2008

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