Jesuits elect new Superior General
By Drew Sottardi | Senior Writer
Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, S.J., of Venezuela was elected Friday as Superior General of the Society of Jesus, becoming just the 31st man to hold the position since the order was founded in 1540. He is the first Latin American leader of the Jesuits, the largest order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church.
Before being elected by his fellow Jesuits at the General Congregation in Rome, Father Sosa held several leadership positions within the Society. Most recently, he was in charge of the Interprovincial Houses and Works of the Society of Jesus, a network of international universities and residences in Rome.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, the 67-year-old Father Sosa is an accomplished scholar with a doctorate in political sciences from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He has taught at colleges around the world and speaks Spanish, Italian, and English. (Click here for a complete bio of Father Sosa.)
Father Sosa succeeds the Very Reverend Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, S.J., 80, who announced in 2014 that he would be resigning this year. Father Nicolás officially stepped down October 3 after leading the Jesuits since 2008.
A different perspective
Like Pope Francis—the first Jesuit Pope and a native of Argentina—Father Sosa has a long history of helping the poor and marginalized, especially in Latin America. That mission and worldview resonates with Mark Bosco, S.J., director of the Joan & Bill Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage and associate professor of theology and English at Loyola.
“It’s really exciting that we have a non-European leader,” Father Bosco said. “Father Sosa brings a different kind of experience with the Church and has a much more profound sense of the stark poverty in South America. Having Father Sosa and Pope Francis at the same time really shows that Latin America is now a mature and vibrant community for Catholicism.”
Thomas Regan, S.J., dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Loyola, has known Father Sosa for more than a decade. The two first met at an international Jesuit conference in 2004, and they spent three months together in Rome as part of the General Congregation that elected Father Nicolás in 2008. Father Regan considers the new Superior General a “Jesuit’s Jesuit” and says the Society has chosen the perfect man for the position.
“He’s a staunch supporter of higher education, truly a world citizen, and a passionate promoter of the Society’s social justice initiatives,” Father Regan said. “We will be well served.”
Father Regan believes the new Superior General’s background in academia will be a huge asset for Jesuit colleges in the United States.
“Higher education in this country is at a critical moment,” Father Regan said. “Fortunately, we’ll have someone at the top who understands not only the Jesuit dimensions of higher education but, having taught at Georgetown University, understands the pressures that colleges in the United States face.”
When asked to describe the new Superior General as a person, Father Regan was quick with his response. “He’s just a really nice guy,” he said.
The scene from Rome
Brian Paulson, S.J., provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province, was in Rome as part of the Jesuit delegation that elected Father Sosa. He said via email that he first met the new Superior General a few years ago—and he, like Father Regan, was immediately impressed.
“He’s really warm, friendly, and down-to-earth,” said Father Paulson, who has a master’s degree from Loyola and served as rector of the University’s Jesuit community from 2010 to 2014. “He puts people at ease, and he is a very careful and good listener. … I am especially impressed by what I have learned about his work in Venezuela. My prayers are with him as he takes up these awesome new responsibilities.”
Among the 215 Jesuits in Rome for the General Congregation were two Loyolans: Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., University chancellor; and José Mesa, S.J., a visiting professor in the School of Education. Both men are taking part in the congregation as non-elector delegates, so they did not vote in the election for the new Superior General.
In an email exchange, Father Mesa described the gathering in Rome as “a time of grace, friendship, and amazing companionship among all members of the congregation.”
He believes Father Sosa will put an emphasis on social justice, “making sure that the voice and the concerns of the marginalized are central to everything we do.”
“I think it will be an exciting time for renewal, networking, and creativity,” Father Mesa said, “and to explore ‘the audacity of the improbable and even the impossible’ as Father Sosa stated in his first homily as Superior General of the Society.” (Click here to read more remarks from Father Mesa.)
Looking to the future
The General Congregation, which elects the Superior General, is the ultimate authority in the Society, said James Prehn, S.J., who is a University vice president and special advisor for mission and identity to Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD. “When they’re not in session—which is most of the time since they’ve only met 36 times in almost 500 years—the Father General is the ultimate authority,” he said.
And even though Father Sosa will have tremendous leeway in setting the agenda for the Jesuits, he doesn’t have a blank slate.
“He does not make laws,” said Father Prehn, who also is the rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola. “He’s more like a chief executive, if you will.”
Father Prehn said it’s too early to tell what areas Father Sosa will focus on and what priorities the Jesuits will set under their new leader. But there’s one issue in particular that Father Prehn would like to see the Jesuits tackle: racial inequality.
He pointed to Loyola’s Arrupe College, which educates mostly minority and low-income students, as an example of how the Jesuits are “working toward justice in an American society that can be racist. … It’s an attempt to rectify an historic injustice.”
Many people are curious to see how Father Sosa will work with Pope Francis, his fellow Jesuit. If history is a guide, Father Prehn said, you can expect an easy friendship.
“Pope Francis made a point—I think it was within 48 hours of being elected—of asking Father Nicolás to come over for a photograph,” Prehn said. “And that wasn’t by accident.
“So I would imagine that the new Father General will also have a warm relationship with the Pope.”
• See pictures of Father Sosa celebrating with his fellow Jesuits after he was named the new Superior General. Photo gallery
• From October 7: Hear Father Sosa talk about the differences—and similarities—between the Jesuits at the 36th General Congregation. Watch video