The Jesuit delegates of the 35th General Congregation enter the Church of the Gesù in Rome. Photo by Fr. Don Doll, SJ.
General Congregations are the ultimate governing body in the
Society of Jesus, and here are some of the more interesting facts about these gatherings,
which began over 450 years ago:
1. The first General Congregation took place in 1558, delayed
for two years after St. Ignatius’ death by a war between King Philip II of
Spain and Pope Paul IV. Father Diego Laynez was elected Superior General.
2. The fourth congregation in 1581 elected the youngest Jesuit
general: 38-year-old Father Claudio Acquaviva.
3. Fr. Acquaviva served as Superior General for 34 years — the
longest term in Jesuit history — and presided over three congregations.
4. The sixth General Congregation made obligatory a daily hour
of prayer and an annual eight-day retreat for all Jesuits.
5. Given the variety of cultures and circumstances in which Jesuits have lived and worked, differing views have sometimes made for lively debate on major and minor issues alike, from interreligious dialogue to Jesuit formation to how long a cassock should be.
6. General Congregation 10 is the only one to have elected two
Superior Generals. Father Luigi Gottifredi was elected first, but he died
before the congregation concluded. The same group then elected Father Goswin
7. The 20th General Congregation (1820) was the first one held
after the Society's restoration in 1814. Greatly concerned that the Society be
the same as before the suppression, it reinstated the decrees of all past
8. The 31st congregation took place during and after Vatican
Council II and elected Father Pedro Arrupe as general. GC 31 dealt with Jesuit
life and work in greater detail than any previous meeting, legislating changes
and updating the theory and practice of poverty.
9. The Jesuit elected as Superior General need not be present at
the congregation — but this would be very unusual.
10. When more than 200 Jesuits arrive for General Congregation
36 in Rome in October 2016, there won’t be any confusion about who sits where.
It’s decided for them — seating is alphabetical!
Adapted from an
article by Jesuit Father John Padberg, a historian and the former longtime director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources.