General from 1965 to 1983

For anyone familiar with the Jesuits and living in the last quarter of the 20th Century, the name Pedro Arrupe, the 28th General of the Society of Jesus, needs no introduction.

No man, Pope or saint, you or I, is without advocates and opponents. In some cases there are more and in others, less, some are of little or no value and others may be more discerning. Arrupe, too, has had these; not only in his lifetime, but also since the day he passed into history. When discussing the possibility of Arrupe's beatification, one Jesuit remarked that it probably would not happen until all his enemies were dead. So, our little sketch here will have to look forward to some time in the future when the final word of Arrupe's life is written.

For our purpose, then, we will have to aim at some of the peaks of his life.

He was born on November 14, 1907 into a well-to-do Basque family in Bilbao, Spain, his father being a well-known journalist of that city. In the family he was preceded by four sisters, who, not strangely, took to being doting surrogate mothers. He was baptized on the following day in the fine gothic Cathedral of St. James.

In his early years he was schooled by the Piarist Fathers of Bilbao. While he was at Medical school in Valladolid, his encounter with the Jesuits occurred when he joined the Sodality of Our Lady and St. Stanislaus Kostka, in which he eventually became Prefect and editor of their modest publication. In this he displayed a journalistic bent inherited from his father, one of the founders of the "Gaceta del Norte," a leading journal of Bilbao.

During the 20s there was much social unrest in Spain and a coup d'etat was forced on the king, Alfonso XIII. In 1923 the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera took over the government. In 1930 the king was forced into exile and the anti-Catholic Republican regime took charge. Eventually, General Francisco Franco organized opposition to the government and the Civil War would begin in 1933 and would last until 1936.

Pedro entered the Society on January 15, 1927 at Loyola, the birthplace of St. Ignatius. It is understandable that a Novitiate under such political turmoil would be less than ideal and superiors finally decided to send the scholastics out of the country for their subsequent formation. So, Arrupe was sent with the other scholastics to Marneffe in Belgium and to Valkenburg in Holland. The Jesuits were ultimately expelled from Spain, and some who stayed behind became martyrs during the ensuing civil war.

As an example of those troubled times, the Jesuit church in Madrid had been attacked by a mob and burned to the ground. This action left the Society with only a handful of ashes—which was all that remained—of the bodies of Lainez and Borgia, previous Generals, who had been interred in the church.

On July 30, 1936 Arrupe was ordained a priest at Marneffe, Belgium. That same year he was permitted to participate in the International Conference on Eugenics for those specializing in medicine and psychiatry.

Superiors then sent him to St. Mary's College, the Jesuit Theologate in Kansas, to finish his Theology. His Tertianship, the year terminating his spiritual formation, was spent in Cleveland, Ohio, where he occupied himself with the spiritual direction and care of Hispanic immigrants.

After Tertianship he was sent to the Japanese Mission, where he familiarized himself with the Japanese working for the social services sponsored by Sophia University, the Jesuit university in Tokyo, and in 1940, he spent 35 days as a prisoner of war, accused of spying.

In 1945 he was appointed Jesuit Superior, as well as Novice Master and Rector of the Novitiate and Scholasticate in a suburb of Hiroshima, about three miles from the city center.

On August 6 of that year the Atomic Age was brutally ushered in by the devastating destruction caused by the first Atom Bomb, which destroyed the center of Hiroshima.

With his medical background he was able to organize an emergency hospital, at the Novitiate, to take care of the many casualties fleeing from the center of the city and to alleviate the suffering of hundreds of bewildered and half-dying victims.

After the unimaginable destruction caused by the atomic bomb the war was soon concluded in August 1945. In March 1954 he was named Vice-Provincial and in October 1958 Provincial of the Jesuits in Japan. The call went out world wide for Jesuits to help in the reconstruction of Japan and Jesuits from over 30 countries eagerly and generously responded.

After the death of Janssens in October of 1964, the 31st General Congregation was called to convene in two sessions: the first from May 7 to July 15, 1965 and the second from September 8 to November 17, 1966. Pedro Arrupe was elected General on May 22, 1965 during the first session.

Nine years later at the urging of his collaborators in the Curia, he called the 32nd General Congregation—to face up to and deal with the reaction and response of the Society to the changes occurring in the modem secular world. It lasted from December 2, 1974 to March 7, 1975.

During his tenure he was able to visit Jesuits and their works in all parts of the world. On August 7, 1981 after a long and tiring trip throughout the Far East he suffered a stroke just after his airplane had landed at Rome's Fiumicino Airport. He was paralyzed on his right side and was able to speak only a few words, but this ability gradually deteriorated until he was completely mute. From that time on he lived in the infirmary at the Curia. His only form of communication with the Jesuit Brother, his constant companion, was with his eyes or hand pressure.

The 33rd General Congregation was called to deal with the situation, viz, the resignation of Arrupe and the election of a successor. The Congregation was called by Father Paolo Dezza, the Pontifical Delegate, especially appointed by the Pope to assure that the Society be kept on course. There was a wave of resentment from some Jesuits at what was seemingly Papal interference in Jesuit affairs. However, reading these brief accounts of previous Generals, one might understand that it was quite a normal thing to do; and, the Pope was often unjustly maligned mostly through ignorance of the history of the Society.

Arrupe's resignation was accepted on September 3, 1983 during the Congregation and it proceeded to elect Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach as General.

During his ten long and silent years in the infirmary, praying for the Society, Arrupe received many and frequent well wishers among whom the Pope was the most distinguished.

He finally died at the Curia on February 5, 1991 in his 84th year. His Generalate actually lasted for 18 years from his election until his resignation in 1983, though he lived another eight years of complete inactivity paralyzed and with little communication.

Pedro Arrupe's funeral was held in the Gesù and was attended by crowds inside and in the piazza outside the church. Also in attendance were 10 cardinals, 20 bishops, the Prime Minister of Italy and other religious and civil dignitaries. His body was taken and interred in the Jesuit Mausoleum at Campo Verano beside his predecessors.