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Superior general challenges Jesuits

Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach (left), superior general of the Society of Jesus, converses with Father John Schlegel, SJ, president of Creighton University, and Littleton Alston, associate professor of Fine and Performing Arts at Creighton, before blessing Alston's sculpture of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. Photo by Brian Fuchser

Father Kolvenbach greets Creighton students and guests during his visit to the university's campus Oct. 7
By Brian Fuchser
The Catholic Voice

Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, superior general of the Society of Jesus, challenged Jesuits around the world to strengthen their partnerships with lay ministers during a recent address in Omaha.

The worldwide head of the Jesuits spoke Oct. 7 at Creighton University's Kiewit Fitness Center, delivering his address on Jesuit/lay partnership before an estimated crowd of 1,200 and live to a global audience via wedcast.

Father Kolvenbach called all members of the Society of Jesus to "be not only friends and companions of the Lord and each other," but also to be "friends and companions of our (lay) partners in mission."

But a new question has emerged in light of this call to what Father Kolvenbach called "a partnership of equality" between Jesuits and the Second Vatican Council's "church of the laity."

"How can Jesuits serve lay women and men in their ministries? Jesuits must think of our parish, our retreat center, or our school in a completely new way," he said. "It is ours now, referring to a larger group, because it is a mission for which all of us – Jesuit and lay – are co-responsible."

Father Kolvenbach elaborated on this challenge.

"We have to distinguish between ministries that are and remain 'Jesuit,' in which both lay persons and Jesuits work collaboratively together towards a common mission," he said, "and what we might call strictly lay ministries, where the involvement of Jesuits could range across a broad spectrum of collaboration."

History of collaboration

In his address, Father Kolvenbach acknowledged the past efforts of Jesuits to collaborate with the laity.

"As this very special group gathers to reflect on how we will cooperate in mission in the future, we look back into the past," he said. "The history of Jesuit/lay partnership has been a history of a tightly bound network of mutual support."

That rich history of collaboration continues today, he said, praising the Jesuit Middle School "as the latest institutional example of Jesuit/lay partnership in Omaha."

Father Kolvenbach said there are things both Jesuits and the laity can offer each other as a means of support.

"The years have taught us a deeper appreciation for the richness of mutual gifts that all bring to the ministries we share," Father Kolvenbach said. "One of the important gifts that our partners bring to our joint ministry is their very freedom, a freedom that we Jesuits must not only accept but must respect and appreciate.

"One of the greatest gifts Jesuits have to offer in support of our (lay) colleagues is our companionship," he said. "We have pledged to offer what we are and have received: our spiritual and apostolic inheritance, our educational resources, and our friendship."

Father Kolvenbach's message of partnership is significant, said Father Andy Alexander, SJ, vice-president for University Ministry and director of the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton University. It is "important for all of us who are baptized," he said.

Lay involvement in Jesuit ministries has not weakened Jesuit identity, but rather strengthened it, Father Alexander said. "A place like Creighton is more Jesuit today than it was."

Father Kolvenbach visited Creighton and other Jesuit ministries in Omaha Oct. 7 and 8, in part to recognize Creighton's 125th anniversary and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus.

But the historic visit of Father Kolvenbach was more "a celebration of 125 years of Jesuits and their partners" in Omaha, Father Alexander said.

Importance of partnership

Creighton has been a place where the partnership between the Jesuits and laity has thrived from the beginning, said Father John Schlegel, SJ, president of Creighton University.

Father Schlegel attended the address along with Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss and Father Jim Grummer, SJ, provincial of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus.

"At Creighton, we have been cooperating with each other in mission since the day the doors of Creighton opened in 1878, with two Jesuit priests, two Jesuits in training, a lay man and a lay woman," Father Schlegel said.

Father Schlegel said the visit was important for alumni of Jesuit institutions in Omaha.

"You can see from his speeches to Jesuit school alumni around the world each year that he is always inviting them to rely on the support they found in their Jesuit education to make a commitment to work for others through works of justice and compassion," Father Schlegel said.

Father Kolvenbach visited the Jesuit Middle School, Creighton Prep and St. Benedict the Moor Parish. He also celebrated Mass at St. John's Church and blessed a sculpture of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus. The new sculpture is part of Creighton University's refurbished mall.

Before ending his address with a prayer, Father Kolvenbach stressed the importance of God's love in furthering the partnership between Jesuits and the laity.

"Love expresses itself in deeds," he said. "In true love, the gift of self for the other becomes mutual."

The Catholic Voice

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