The visit of the superior general (also referred to as Father General) of the Jesuits to any country is usually announced with fanfare and pride. So it’s curious that no announcement, news releases or major headlines have accompanied the Rev. Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits, on a trip to the states. He is currently attending the International Association of Jesuit Universities at Boston College and will meet afterward with other Jesuits.
This trip of the superior general is quite a contrast to the pomp and press surrounding Pope Francis’ recent penitential pilgrimage to Canada.
I discovered his visit by looking at the agenda for the meeting, as well as reading his address to the assembly on Thursday, titled “Discerning the Present to Prepare the Future of the University Education of the Society of Jesus.”
This trip of the superior general is quite a contrast to the pomp and press surrounding Pope Francis’ recent penitential pilgrimage to Canada, during which he expressed his apology on behalf of the church to First Nation people whose families and communities have been scarred by the horrific abuse students experienced in Catholic residential schools.
I can't help but wonder why Father General did not accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Canada, or schedule a meeting with African Americans whose family members were both enslaved and sold to keep Georgetown University, America's first Jesuit university, afloat in 1838. Surely that merits an apology from the head of the religious order that would not have been able to keep a key institution running without selling human beings.
As I wrote recently in regard to the pope’s visit to Canada, an in-person apology — or any type of apology — is merely the first step in a complex process of generational healing. And even so, we need more. As I said, “Reparations for the physical and mental abuse generations of First Nation families suffered in these Catholic residential schools must not only be promised but actually paid, even though no amount of money is sufficient.” The same goes for Black people in America, and others who suffered at the hands of Catholic institutions.
There has been no official statement on Superior General Sosa’s visit. Both Boston College and the New York Province were contacted for comment, but no response was received.
I’m sure if there was an official explanation for his not coming to Canada with Pope Francis it would likely include the fact that Sosa was celebrating the mass for the Feast of St. Ignatius, founder of the order, on July 31 in Loyola, Spain, right after the pope’s Canada visit; it's an important day for the Jesuits, marking the 500-year anniversary of the order. Sosa did visit Canada in 2018; although he did not extend an apology on that trip, he spoke of how Pope Francis would more than likely apologize on behalf of the church.
Shouldn’t the superior general of the Jesuits on a visit to America at least take the time to meet with some of the descendants of the enslaved sold to keep the first Jesuit university in America running?
To those outside the Catholic Church, this trip by Father General won’t be news. But to those who have both benefited from and been hurt by the order, it is extremely significant.
In the past, Jesuits have made statements and organized reconciliation meetings over issues of sexual abuse and slavery. Jesuits in Canada have made statements and apologies for the abuses that took place at Spanish residential schools. Similar kinds of statements have been made in the U.S., such as the agreement with the GU272, the descendants of people enslaved and sold by Jesuit priests to keep Georgetown in business.
As a former professor at a Jesuit institution, I know it is important for Father General to speak and preside at a mass that leaders in Jesuit higher education have come to from around the world. Perhaps there is no harmful reason for a quiet visit. But the timing of this particular visit, kept tightly under wraps, is suspect.
On the other hand, much like my critique of the Catholic Church’s lack of funding for the First Nation people (only a fraction of the pledged $25 million has been raised so far), the same can be said for Jesuit efforts at Georgetown. Descendants of enslaved people sold by the Jesuits at Georgetown are demanding more. To date, The Jesuits have promised to raise $100 million, but that money will not come directly from the order but from fundraising. So far, that amount has not been raised. Georgetown has committed so far to raising an annual $400,000 for tuition for the descendants of people enslaved and sold by the university, but many do not believe it is enough.
This model of fundraising to pay for the sins perpetrated by the Catholic Church and religious orders like the Jesuits is a distraction. Flowery statements are brandished on websites, but the amounts aren’t raised, meaning actual reparations and true healing do not happen. And while an apology was made at the start of the process at Georgetown, we've seen nothing official from the superior general.
Shouldn’t the superior general of the Jesuits on a visit to America at least take the time to meet with some of the descendants of the enslaved sold to keep the first Jesuit university in America running? Would it hurt to extend an apology and have a conversation?
As someone who has benefited both from Jesuit education and spirituality, it is disheartening to have to ask why the superior general of the Jesuits did not see fit to make his presence publicly known while in the United States. Father General’s presence in Boston and visits to Jesuit provinces during his time in America looks like a clerical conclave, not a visit for the Catholic faithful or for those who have been harmed by Jesuit policies, practices and behavior.
In the words of St. Ignatius, love is shown more in deeds than in words. I’m not sure this visit is about love. Those who are owed an apology from the head of the Jesuit Order would most likely agree.