GC 36’s Canadian and U.S. Delegates Meet in St. Louis for Crucial Planning Session
by Tracey Primrose
October 26, 2015 — In the 16th century, St. Ignatius Loyola founded one of the world’s first multinational organizations, the Society of Jesus. In October of 2016, the Jesuits will choose Ignatius’ successor in Rome at General Congregation 36, or GC 36 for short. Although the 215 GC 36 delegates representing Jesuit provinces and regions around the world don’t meet for another year, the work of the congregation has already begun.
While the election of a new Jesuit superior general to replace the retiring Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, who has served since 2008, will be the congregation’s main headline, equally important is the Ad Negotiam or business side of the meeting. This is the part of the congregation that addresses the De Statu, or state of the Society, and the part that produces decrees charting the Society’s future course.
In St. Louis last week, the 33 delegates representing Canada and the U.S. met for the first time and made several important decisions regarding the Ad Negotiam portion of the congregation. Over the course of the next year, the delegates will have a unique opportunity to prayerfully consider the Society’s current state and, more importantly, its future. And that discernment and preparation will happen before the official proceedings begin, which is something new in congregation history.
In earlier congregations, the documents that frame the meeting were not disseminated until shortly before the delegates met in Rome, and the key committee members were not selected until that point. In 2014, however, Fr. Nicolás approved the new Formula, the manual for a General Congregation created by St. Ignatius himself nearly half a millennium ago. Now much of the work of the congregation can be done long before the first plenary session.
As Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, explains, “We’re not waiting till we get there, we’re starting those conversations now.”
The work of the congregation will be shared by four committees. Each committee will have six members, representing the six Jesuit Conferences around the world. At last week’s delegates’ meeting, committee representatives from Canada and the U.S. were elected, using, once again, guidelines dating back to Ignatius.
Although strict rules forbid campaigning or lobbying, there was time prior to the election for the murmuratio, quiet one-on-one conversations, where delegates consider the strengths of the 33 possible candidates from Canada and the U.S.
Eight of the 33 delegates had also served at GC 35, so they were familiar with the murmuratio. But for first-time delegate Fr. Tom Greene, SJ, it was all new. “It was moving to hear the eight talk about their experience of the murmuratio before the election of Fr. Nicolás. There was a stillness and poignancy when they spoke, and you could see that the process still had a strong emotional resonance as a sacred time of Jesuits discerning together.”
Of his fellow delegates, Fr. Greene, said, “I couldn’t be happier with the men we chose. These are very talented Jesuits, and they will serve the Society well in preparing documents and coordinating the Congregation.”
When the murmuratio concluded, votes were cast, and four delegates were chosen for leadership roles.
Fr. Kesicki was elected to serve on the GC 36 Coordinating Committee, the entity responsible for planning and running the congregation.
Fr. Mark Ravizza, SJ, will serve on the De Statu Societatis Committee, which will examine the state of the Society today, including identifying what’s working well and where there are opportunities for growth and renewal. Fr. Ravizza is the director of Jesuit Mission and Ministry at Casa Bayanihan at Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines and has also served as an associate professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University in California.
Fr. David Ciancimino, SJ, will serve on the Commission on Renewal of Governance for Mission. He currently serves as the president of Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York, and is the former provincial of the New York Province Jesuits.
Fr. John McCarthy, SJ, will serve on the Commission on Renewal of Jesuit Life and Mission. Fr. McCarthy is the socius (assistant) to the provincial for the Jesuits’ English Canada Province and also serves as the province’s director of formation.
His commission will look at how Jesuit communities intersect with Jesuit mission. “We’re being asked to look at how we live as friends in the Lord, what’s the energy and dynamism in our communities that will sustain the mission work. Fr. General has focused on integration between Jesuit life and mission and how we organize our own lives in community to support that and make it more effective.”
Although Fr. McCarthy is an inveterate meeting attender, this was no ordinary gathering. “I found it very consoling. Over the last several years, I’ve been working closely with colleagues in the United States and Mexico, and you leave these gatherings with a sense of a much broader Society. To meet so many fine men and learn about their experience was very gratifying on many levels.”
The commissions will consider the many hundreds of postulates or suggestions that have been submitted to the congregation from Jesuit provinces and regions around the world. A postulate typically addresses either apostolic priorities or governance in the Society of Jesus. For instance, a postulate might ask how the Society of Jesus is responding to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’.
According to Fr. Kesicki, the change in the Formula for a General Congregation is exciting. “In the past, the delegates didn’t start examining issues until they arrived in Rome. Because the commissions are meeting over the course of the next year, not only do they have time to consider topics, they can bring in outside experts who can advise them on solving complex issues. You’re not bound by the expertise in the congregation. This is widening the net with a 21st century approach.”
Fr. Kesicki said that the delegates approach the upcoming congregation with generosity and faith. “They are eager to engage their brothers and to offer the expertise of our own Conference to the whole Society. This is the first time a congregation has begun with a Jesuit pope, and the Society has a great desire to join the church in serving the vision and witness of Pope Francis.”
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