Preparing for the election of our next Superior General

Fr General Nicolás with Pope Francis
Fr General Nicolás with Pope Francis

Within the next few days, the Society of Jesus will have a new Superior General. The present holder of the post, Fr Adolfo Nicolás SJ, announced his intention to step down at the age of 80, a milestone he passed last April, and one of the first responsibilities for delegates at the 36th General Congregation (GC36) meeting in Rome from Sunday will be the election of his successor.

A total of 215 Jesuits will be taking part in GC36, gathered from 66 Provinces and Regions of the Society; 212 of the participants will be involved in electing the new Superior General. The first stage will be acceptance of Father General Nicolás’ resignation, after which the Congregation will discuss the state of the Society (De Statu Societatis) which will help to clarify what characteristics they feel the future General should have.

This will be followed by four days of murmurationes, or one-to-one conversations. Group conversations will not be permitted: the electors can only ask for information from each other. “The days of murmurationes are dedicated to prayer, recollection, and penance,” St Ignatius stated. “It is a time of discernment.” It is expected that the new Superior General will be elected in the second week of GC36: he will require 107 votes - an absolute majority (50 percent plus 1). The process involved in a General Congregation and the election of the Superior General, is contained in the booklet called the Formula of a General Congregation, as Father Orlando Torres, SJ, Rector of Collegio Internationale del Gesù, explained to a Press Conference in Rome on Tuesday. “The only thing not in the formula, but the most important, is how the Holy Spirit will inspire us.”

Humble, just and courageous loveA portrait of St Ignatius Loyola with the Constitutions - displayed at the Jesuit Curia in Rome

But what do the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus say about the profile of the Superior General? Fr Nick Austin SJ, Superior of the Copleston House Jesuit Community in North London and teacher of Theological Ethics at Heythrop College, has recently written an article for the magazine Manresa, in which he analyses what St Ignatius himself perceived to be the qualities required of the ideal Father General.

“What Ignatius wants for the leader of the Society of Jesus is not just an expert, but a particular class of person, someone who can lead, above all, with his example, which should be a mirror and paragon for all of us,” wrote Fr Austin. “What he wants more than anything is that the Father General be a good Jesuit.”

A profound spirituality, a friendship with God in prayer, in action, and in human relationships are further qualities that the Superior General should have, according to Fr Austin, “with a freedom of heart so that he can lead with humble, just, and courageous love … Above all, he should be a person with initiative and perseverance in doing good, always showing magnanimity in success and in failure. He should be careful of his health and his appearance. And in soul, heart and body he should live the magis with great heart, open to God, and to others.”

The full version of Fr Nick Austin’s article is available in the current edition of Manresa.