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A powerful witness’

Nicole Michels | Friday, March 22, 2013

As the first Jesuit pontiff in the history of the office, Pope Francis has not turned water into wine or revolutionized Church doctrine.  Still, his humble nature and simple, pastoral demeanor have delighted the world, prompting pundits, media and laity alike to look to Francis to breathe “fresh air” into the Church.

Fr. Tim Kesicki, S.J., provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesuits, said Pope Francis very clearly brings a new perspective to the papacy.

“He’s never worked in the Vatican. … He’s going to say, ‘This is how we did it in Buenos Aires?’ Although, he’s not going to say, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it,’ he’s going to say, ‘How can we do it better?'” Kesicki said. “I think part of his election was that they wanted someone with a fresh perspective.”

Rev. Patrick McGrath, S.J., president of the Chicago-area high school Loyola Academy and 1988 Notre Dame graduate, said many of the new Pope’s most attractive qualities as a papal candidate and leader of the Catholic Church could be called “quintessentially Jesuit.”

“I think the fundamentally Jesuit way of looking at the world comes from Ignatius himself – this very positive view of the world that says God is to be experienced in all things,” McGrath said. “As a result, we enter into the world. We don’t retreat from it, we engage it and trust that God is to be found into the marketplace.”

Kesicki said he felt a combination of joy and disbelief when he heard the first Jesuit pope had been selected.

“None of us thinks he is going to live in the time of a great historical moment – things like this are for the history books,” Kesicki said.  

Never before had a Jesuit been selected as pontiff, nor had a member of a religious order been chosen to lead the Church in 120 years, Fr. Daley, S.J, professor of theology at Notre Dame said.  

The lack of Jesuits in the papal office is in part due to old rivalries between Jesuits and other groups and the Society’s unwillingness to accept Church office, Daley said.

“We’re not really encouraged or allowed to accept Church office,” Daley said.  “If a Jesuit is offered a bishop’s position we have to be kind of commanded to accept it by the Pope otherwise we will say no.  I think St. Ignatius wanted us to do our work free of any ambition or politics … [Jesuits] don’t have a lot of time for ecclesiastical ambition.”

Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., professor of theology at Notre Dame said Pope Francis’ comportment demonstrates the very Jesuit desire to engage with the world.  

“He’s not looking to be deferred to, he wants to speak with people in a familiar way, pastorally,” Daley said.  “I thought his first words from St. Peter’s [Basilica] were perfect, were beautiful.  Just saying, ‘They wanted me here, I don’t know why I’m here, but I’m here to be your bishop and to help you.  Will you pray for me?’

“I think humility is really the heart of Jesuit spirituality.  What Ignatius really wanted to cultivate was doing what do as a service to our fellow men and women, not for any kind of status or recognition, and trying to grow in union with Christ, to let his humility become the model for ours.”

McGrath said Jesuits throughout the history of the order have not hesitated to engage the ‘tough questions.’  This is due to the climate in which the order was founded and how it has interpreted its mission since then, he said.  

“I don’t think it’s a mistake of the Holy Spirit or of history that Jesuits themselves came into being at a time of great tumult,” McGrath said.  “From Ignatius onward we Jesuits have felt a great responsibility to care for the Church and to serve the Church.”  

McGrath said he hopes Pope Francis will continue to experience the spirit of community and respectful conversation inherent to Jesuit life during his pontificate.  

“He could model something, he could show the world something by living simply. I think it’s a powerful witness that he offers,” McGrath said. 

Fr. Tony Lusvardi, S.J., 2002 Notre Dame alumnus and administrator of the St. Charles, St. Bridget and St. Agnes parishes on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, said he believes Pope Francis to work on improving the Roman Curia by leading by example.

“I would guess he will work on [improving the Curia] according to his personality, according to that simplicity, that directness,” Lusvardi said.  “I think he’ll challenge the Church and the people that work for the Church to be more simple and more humble in their lives, to live that Franciscan kind of policy. That’s refreshing.

“The most important way any leader leads is by example, and he’s already set a good example.”

Lusvardi said Pope Francis’ focus on the fundamental aspects of the faith in his public addresses thus far impressed him.  He was personally inspired by the pontiff’s willingness to engage everyone around him because it connects to his own mission in South Dakota.

“One of the very important things in the history of our order has been the idea of evangelization,” Lusvardi said.  “That’s the sort of work I’m doing now on an Indian reservation in South Dakota.  Hearing him come out and delivering that very simple message of the need for prayer, the humility of the Gospel and seeing his desire to spread that to everyone. … I think that will be a major part of his papacy.”

Though some young people have been disillusioned with the Church as a result of some recent mistakes, Kesicki said he expects Pope Francis to balance the need to teach people the ways of the Church while addressing their concerns.

“The Church is 2000 years old. It can’t adjust itself to suit the desires of people,” Kesicki said.  “He will evaluate what the needs are of the young people that need attention and where the young people need to grow in their understanding of the beauty of the Church.

McGrath said he hopes the new pontiff will keep the Jesuit spirit alive in his heart throughout his pontificate.

“There is a constantly renewing spirit to the Ignatian spirituality, the sense that God is not distant and that he is actively engaged in working out our story,” McGrath said.  “[This spirituality asks that we] trust that God is actually whispering his spirit into the life of the Church and have the humility that we all have to let God love us on God’s terms.”