“Evangelical Leaven”: First Jesuit Pontiff Pens a Letter to Jesuits’ Superior General

“The Jesuits, ah, the Jesuits.  They know everything—but nothing else.”

The wisecrack is attributed to an Italian nun who spoke in 1991, on the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Society of Jesus.   And while the Jesuits have enjoyed a reputation for scholarship, playing an important role in founding and operating institutions of Catholic higher education, at the same time it is well known that some prominent Jesuit theologians have publicly dissented from official Church teaching.  In 1981 Pope John Paul II, concerned about the Jesuits’ dissent and about their support for revolutionary Latin American politics, appointed a “personal delegate” to rein in the Jesuits before permitting the election of a successor to Father General Pedro Arrupe.

The Jesuits are called “the Pope’s men” because of the special oath of obedience which each Jesuit takes to go anywhere on any mission in the service of the Holy Father. And now, for the first time, the “Pope’s men” report to one of their own.  Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to ascend to the throne of Peter. 

On the third day of his pontificate, the Holy Father reached out to his brother Jesuits, sending a letter to Fr. Adolfo Nicolas Pachon, the Superior General of the order.  Pope Francis was responding to the congratulatory letter sent to him by Father Pachon when his election was announced.  The Vatican Information Service has today released the full text of the historic letter:

“Dear Fr. Nicolas,

It is with great joy that I received the kind letter that you sent on behalf of yourself and of the Society of Jesus on the occasion of my election to the See of St. Peter, informing me of your prayers for me and my apostolic ministry along with your complete willingness to continue your unconditional service to the Church and to the Vicar of Christ, according to the precepts of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

I thank you cordially for this token of appreciation and closeness, which I reciprocate with pleasure, asking the Lord to enlighten and accompany all Jesuits so that—faithful to the charism received and the footsteps of the saints of our beloved Order, by their pastoral activity but above all through the witness of lives entirely devoted to the service of the Church, the Bride of Christ—they may be evangelical leaven to the world, tirelessly seeking the glory of God and the good of souls.

With these sentiments I ask all Jesuits to pray for me and entrust me to the loving protection of Mary, our Mother in Heaven, while, as a pledge of abundant heavenly favours, I impart with special fondness my Apostolic Blessing, which I also extend to all those who work with the Society of Jesus in their activities, benefit from their good works, and partake of their spirituality.”