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A close look at Jesuit order uncovers a rich history and challenging future.

ROME - The most important part of Jesuit Father John J. O'Callaghan's job, he admits, takes the least amount of time. As one of four general assistants at the Jesuit curia, his job, and theirs, is to supervise the actions of the order's father general - on behalf of all Jesuits.

It was an unusual experience, said O'Callaghan, 61, when elected to his position in the mid- 1980s, to kneel before the father general in front of the society and take a Latin oath warning the father general that, "I will impeach you if necessary.' It has not been necessary. Indeed no Jesuit general has been removed from office, though one, a long time ago, probably left office one step ahead of impeachment.

Periodically, the four general assistants (the others are Fathers Michael Amaladoss, Simon Decloux and Joao MacDowell) meet to discuss the health and actions of their boss, Jesuit Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, but otherwise their work comprises administration and travel, meetings and projects.

But being in Rome, at the church's administrative center, provides some sharp perspective.

"It's only since living in Italy," said O'Callaghan, "and hearing the Italians talk about the Old World and the New World, that I've realized that the New World is not just a one-time historical fact.

"The New (World) has very little history. That means it is ignorant of many things, but it is also unburdened by a lot of the past. We've not suffered a lot, we haven't been around to see something like the Balkans, a thousand years of hatred all of a sudden unleashed."

And further, he said, "I've come to think that America is much more allied, North and South, than the U.S. is allied, East and West, with Europe."

The Americas live in the present and the future, said O'Callaghan.

"The sad thing is we don't profit from the past," he said. "But what I certainly find in Italy is that they live in the past, just a little in the present, and not much in the future at all."

The Jesuit axis, by comparison, he explained, given the diminution in First World numbers, is shifting to the East and South: from the U.S., the largest assistancy with 4,500 Jesuits and a high median age, to India with 3,200 Jesuits and a low median age; and from Western Europe, with practically no vocations, to Indonesia, Chile, Argentina and Korea, with their many novices.

"It's not a new problem," said the general assistant, who entered in Chicago in 1949 with a class of 45 (the current total for the United States is 66 novices), "but it has begun to obtrude on our consciousness. At the crass financial level, at many (U.S.) universities, it is not just that the salaried Jesuits are not able to give back to the universities a fair amount as they have always done, it is that those salaries are not beginning to pay the expenses of the community - because the numbers of retired teachers are higher and the salaried teachers lower."

In terms of the Society of Jesus, he said, Europe is going to cede to other parts of the world "because there just aren't any more Europeans the way there once were."

O'Callaghan has recently spent time in Indonesia, "where the church is booming and the Catholic population is growing faster than the general population." Jesuits number about 340, and the high number of novices is constantly expanding. The priest used Indonesia, however, as one example of U.S. ignorance: "It's the fourth-largest country in the world; they're a power, they've got oil, youth, energy. And most Americans don't even know it's there."

And it's Islamic.

The Jesuits are heading toward a 1995 "congregation," where "dialogue" will be one of the themes. "We have a lot of men trained for interfaith and interreligious work, a lot of resources," said O'Callaghan, "that kind of edge. But we've got to make sure that our Jesuit formation means that all Jesuits are ready to talk to people on the other side of the fence."

In a reflective mood, O'Callaghan mused that "while I wouldn't say that the Jesuits have been closed people, our training, philosophy and theology, gave us great certitudes. Some of the most intransigent lay Catholics as well as priests I meet in the U.S. are products of our universities in the 1940s, where they learned Thomistic philosophy. You can't shake |em.

"So we're really aware we need to inject this working-across-divisions element into our formation and work."

O'Callaghan, who was rector at the Chicago theologate and later president of the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C., said that he was impressed by the caliber of people in the ecumenical theology cluster in Chicago.

"Ecumenism doesn't just depend on the experts and great dialogues - the Jesuits have to spread out beyond them, to be open. We need to know and respect each other at the college and seminary level. It became obvious to me that in the ecumenical cluster there were many remarkable people seeking after God. Very impressive. That's where ecumenism has to be."

And what about the declining numbers of Jesuits? It's all relative, as O'Callaghan sees it.

When Ignatius was building his little band, Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa wanted to join the Jesuits to the Theatine Order, which Carafa had founded. Ignatius demurred. Carafa was furious.

When Carafa became Paul IV, Ignatius quaked in his boots. But history played things differently. Today there are about 24,000 Jesuits worldwide. The Theatines, in Rome, number fewer than two dozen.

In more ways than one, Jesuits get around

SAN DIEGO - Jesuits are circulating widely in more ways tban one - on money and stamps. The new republic of Croatia has Jesuit Ruggero Boscovic (1711-1787) on four of its bank notes, reports Jesuit Father Felix Sanchez Vallejo.

Sanchez Vallejo, a seasoned philatelist, also has collected lately a Jesuit presence on stamps from Panama (the Jesuit symbol IHS as part of the commemoration of the Royal Pontifical University of St. Francis Xavier); from Austria, where three Jesuits were used as cancellation franks; from Germany, which commemorates Jesuit Friederich Spee von Langenfeld (1591-1635), who scientifically defended women condemned for witchcraft; from Iceland, noting Jesuit author Jon Sveinsson Nonni (1857-1944).

The Vatican, Peru and the tiny island-state of Palau have also included Jesuits on recent stamps.
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Title Annotation:Religious Orders
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Feb 19, 1993
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