Jesuit deathwish?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 19, 2005

Today's Times of London has an article on the British Province of the Society of Jesus, focusing on the choice of new provincial superior to succeed Fr. David Smolira, S.J. (To view the article, go here, type "Jesuit" into the search box, choose "search the site," and click on the top result title.) Grim reading:

The Jesuits today are controversial only in their enthusiasm for what their conservative critics regard as ideological and theological fads. Whether or not this is justified, they have gone from being the country's biggest, most powerful, most confident and most prosperous Roman Catholic religious order, with 900 members in 1939, to little more than a sideshow. There are now 230 Jesuits in the British province, yet within five years there will be no more than 75 under the age of 75, and a high proportion of these will be over the age of 60. Just one British novice is in training for the British province.

The author names three top candidates to succeed Smolira, and discusses the prospects of each.

Whoever is nominated will be handed a rather poisoned chalice, though hardly any less bitter than that from which Father Smolira himself had to drink. His appointment as Provincial in 1999 coincided with a police investigation into abuse allegations at Stonyhurst College, the Jesuit public school in Lancashire. He has since laboured over the rationalisation of the society in the light of its evaporating manpower.

That sounds familar, as does the relentless renewal of those antiquated structures of religious life that produced 900 Jesuits from a Protestant nation.

[Former promoter of vocations Fr. Paul] Hamill was part of Father Smolira's inner circle when it was decided to close Campion House College, the seminary in Osterley, Middlesex; to withdraw priests from all but a few schools; to hand over parishes in Lancashire and Wiltshire to their respective dioceses; and to close down The Month, the magazine that first published Cardinal Newman's Dream of Gerontius. Alongside such pruning has been a major investment into a home for the elderly in Boscombe, near Bournemouth, to look after the growing number of Jesuit priests who need geriatric care. It was under Father Hamill, however, that vocations to the Jesuit novitiate dried up.

So, who's on the short list to remedy the situation? The men most keen on the programs that brought the Jesuits to their present predicament. This concerning the front-runner, Fr. Brendan Callaghan:

His judgment has been questioned in some quarters, however, over his role in the appointment in 2002 of a self-proclaimed Wiccan "high priestess" to lecture at Heythrop on the psychology of religion, a move which attracted criticism as having perhaps stretched interfaith dialogue a little too far.

Then too, as the Wiccan was a high priestess, there's the chance that her hierarchical rank would have had a "chilling effect" on the free exchange of ideas in the larger Heythrop community. Last one to leave please turn out the lights.

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  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2005 7:27 AM ET USA

    I agree - we have an Indian Jesuit here in Trinidad. He was lecturing at the Regional Seminary, and had to be removed by the Papal Nuncio - there seemed to be no area of doctrine that he did not twist to suit his agenda! Let us pray for the Jesuits - that they return to their former glory. St. Ignatius, intercede for them.

  • Posted by: Venerable Aussie - Feb. 20, 2005 6:53 PM ET USA

    India (and Indonesia where I have worked) may be awash with Jesuit vocations. Unfortunately, many of them have been "inculturated" with the type of mind-set that is killing off their western counterparts. A Jesuit-led Youth Mass I went to in the Indonesian Jesuit heartland city of Yogyakarta last year had a pop psychology piece posing as the second reading, and the song from the US sitcom "Friends" as the responsorial psalm! I've got the booklet to prove it. Will they learn the lesson in time?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 20, 2005 10:21 AM ET USA

    I was on a retreat at a Jesuit center when we learned that 3 novices had left because they found that the Jesuits were not “conservative” enough. I (foolishly and without thinking) suggested to my retreat director (over age 70) that this might be a good thing. He replied, “If it is, then my life has been in vain.” This makes me sad, but it also gives me hope in the next generation.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Feb. 20, 2005 6:41 AM ET USA

    India has an abundance of Jesuit vocations, I suppose we will soon see Indian missionaries in england. What goes around comes around.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2005 8:19 PM ET USA

    If I lived in Britain, five years could not pass fast enough!

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Feb. 19, 2005 2:21 PM ET USA

    Was it Chesterton who said: "some things are so preposterous that only an intellectual would believe them." It's a shame that so many Jesuits and other highly trained scholars haven't held onto the faith, and thus true reason. They could have been such a powerful force for bringing about a new springtime of the faith and advancing the true good of humanity. Instead they have become fools building on loose & shifting sands... Well, where there is death...there is hope!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2005 12:18 PM ET USA

    The same thing is happening to the Jesuits in the New England province. From what I hear, they had a massive addition put on to their already massive retirement home in Weston. I may be wrong. Maybe a good article on the future of Jesuits is in order.