What Is a General Congregation?

Fr. Guillermo M. García-Tuñón, S.J. | President
You may not be aware that we are living a historic time in the Society of Jesus. As we speak, hundreds of Jesuit superiors are gathered in Rome for the 36th General Congregation (GC36). This is a gathering that, as the number implies, has only met 36 times since the Jesuits were founded in 1541.
The desire of St. Ignatius of Loyola as expressed in our Constitutions, was that the highest authority for our order be this gathering of the minds. What normally motivates such an event is the necessity to elect a new Superior General and/or address issues of great importance that would require special attention on our part.
The first one is easy to understand. The Superior General, or “black pope” as he is often referred to because of his black cassock, dies and a new one is needed. The second reason depends on what the Jesuits deem to be of great importance. For example, in 1995 then Superior General Peter Hans Kolvenbach convened the 34th General Congregation in order to set the vision for the Society’s future and mission. So much had been happening and changing in the modern world that he, along with the rest of the Society of Jesus, agreed that we needed to sit down, discuss, discern, and modernize our strategic plan moving forward. In the end, the desire was to reevaluate how best we, the sons of Ignatius, could continue serving the Church.
So which of the two reasons led to the convening of this General Congregation?
The answer has to do with something that has only happened twice in our 475-year-old history. Our general, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, has resigned. This is rare because like the Pope, Superior Generals have traditionally been elected for life, but times have changed. Following Pope Benedict’s lead and more than likely for health reasons (Fr. General is 80 years old), coupled with the humble understanding that the Society of Jesus can use a younger, more vibrant leader, Fr. Nicolás, with the approval of Pope Francis, decided to step down and hand over the reins. This decision meant that all the Jesuit provinces around the world had to send their provincials and one other representative to Rome to sit as one body and discern the choice for the next Superior General.
No small task when you consider they are electing the successor of men like Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Borja, and Pedro Arrupe. They are electing the man who will set the standard of what it means to be a Jesuit and make sure that the sons of Ignatius remain faithful to the mission of the Society to bring Christ into the world and set it on fire with a desire to love and promote justice.
It is for this reason that we, as a Jesuit community, should start praying fervently for the Jesuit fathers and brothers gathered at the congregation. Say a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking Him to descend on them as He did on the apostles at Pentecost so that their hearts and minds may be motivated to elect a man who is in love with Jesus Christ, devoted to our Blessed Mother, and a faithful son of the Church. This is what Ignatius would have wanted and it is what the world needs.
Auspice Maria,
Fr. Willie ‘87
500 SW 127th Avenue, Miami, FL 33184
phone: 305.223.8600 | fax: 305.227.2565 | email: webmaster@belenjesuit.org
Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.