Jesuit Superior General, Fr Nicolas Adolfo has convoked General Council (GC) 36 to facilitate his retirement as the universal leader of the Society of Jesus in 2016. If the General Council accepts his resignation, he will become only the third Superior General of the Jesuits to retire in more than 450 years.

Fr Chiedza Chimhanda SJ, the Provincial of the Zimbabwe-Mozambique province said convoking the GC 36 in itself does not mean Fr Nicolas has retired. “He will ask for permission at the GC to retire, and the Spirit will lead the Society in responding to his request.”

“He wants to resign because of age. He is 78, and feels the job needs someone fairly younger…This is all about a change in understanding leadership, the same understanding we got from Pope Benedict XVI when he resigned.”

The GC 36 will not only be a platform for the resignation and election of a new leader, but “it will be an opportunity to share on the status of the Society globally, find the priority areas and the major themes demanding focus, and discuss on the direction we ought to take. Various individuals and Provinces will submit documents that spell certain themes they want the Society to focus on, these might be on justice, the environment, HIV/ Aids, mining or any other.

Commenting on the leadership of Fr Nicolas, Fr Chimhanda SJ, said in the words of GC 35, “He is a fire that kindles other fires. He saw the Society as a small fire that kindles other fires. And it all dates back to St Ignatius who said ‘go and set the world on fire. That also goes back to Jesus who said to his apostles go and baptise all nations…”

“Fr Nicolas has taught us to be a bit more attentive to professional governance, to review our governance structures, to be effective in ministry, and to also be effective in our various commitments to the various dynamics of life.

“His big theme is on governance and on our way of life as Jesuits. Fr Nicolas is refreshingly sincere in his appraisal of the Jesuits and their works, admitting that some are ‘mediocre” and do not do any work. “If you have a leader who is honest, and understands the Society to those levels, than it means he is connected to reality.”

“He challenged us to a life of sincere poverty and service, saying that Jesuits talk freely about their works than their spiritual lives. Depth for him is important. Unless there is root, there won’t be fruit.

As Fr. General noted is his call for GC 36, he is currently 78 years old and wants to retire.  This is a new and interesting trend in the Church. The Superior General holds office for life, and up until the 20th century, they died in office. That expectation began to shift with Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who resigned after a stroke. Fr. Nicolás’ predecessor Peter Hans Kolvenbach, SJ retired in 2008 after receiving permission from Pope Benedict XVI. He was the first general to retire in otherwise good health. Many Jesuits and their friends were surprised that the then Pope, Benedict XVI, allowed that to happen, but in hindsight, it’s no surprise Benedict allowed the change, given he did the same thing a few years later, by resigning as Pope.

The General Congregations (GCs) are important events and they have only been 35 such platforms in the more than 450 years of the Society of Jesus.