Local Jesuit community reacts to Pope Francis’ election

By Katherine Long
Sun editor

Like many around the world, members of the Jesuit community in Syracuse were surprised to learn that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been elected as the Church’s first Jesuit pope March 13.

   “My first reaction was one of real surprise,” said Father David McCallum, SJ, Le Moyne College’s Interim Dean of the Madden School of Business and the Director of Mission and Identity. “In the history of the Church, and certainly in my years as a Jesuit, the thinking was there would never be a Jesuit pope.”


   First, Jesuits “are unique in that they take a special vow of obedience to the pope,” Father McCallum explained; members of the order promise to go wherever the pontiff might send them to serve. That missionary charism, coupled with a goal of living simply, means members of the Society generally do not seek high offices, Father McCallum said. Until the election of Pope Francis, Jesuits had worked in service of the pope, not in service as the pope.

   Second, the perceptions of Jesuits having undue influence in the Church — “Though I can assure you that is certainly not the case!” Father McCallum said — and being “socially progressive” had previously made a member of the Society of Jesus an unlikely candidate for pontiff. Pope Francis, however, “is a humble, holy man who has lived simply and not been caught up in the trappings of his positions,” Father McCallum said. “He is in line with Pope [Emeritus] Benedict doctrinally and socially, and is extremely committed to service to the poor and has demonstrated compassionate pastoral care for his people.”

   Father George Coyne, SJ, former director of the Vatican Observatory and current McDevitt Chair in Religious Philosophy at Le Moyne, was also surprised by Pope Francis’ election. But, he said, there is also “a certain family pride” in seeing a member of his order become pontiff.

   Father Coyne said he does not think Pope Francis’ membership in the order will have an effect on his papacy, per se, but rather that his formation in Jesuit spirituality will inform the decisions he makes as pope.

   “One, [Jesuits] see [their] work as contributing to the glory of God. My work at the telescope, for instance, is a prayer,” Father Coyne said. “Two, our vow of service to the pope influences our lives. Any criticism we voice is founded upon deep love and loyalty. …And three, over the last decades, the Jesuits have placed a great deal of emphasis on the service of justice and peace.”  All this, Father Coyne believes, will play a part in Pope Francis’ thinking as he sets about reforming the Roman Curia. “I think as he reforms the government of the Church, the reform will be in the direction of moving the Curia toward a sense of ‘We serve God’s people, not ourselves. All offices have to be run in the service of God’s people.’”

   Both Father Coyne and Father McCallum praised the College of Cardinals’ decision to elect a pope from South America. Father Coyne called the decision “magnificent and transformative” for the Church, and Father McCallum said it was “recognition of a shift in the center of gravity in the Church. Of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, 40 percent live in Latin America. This [election] is a shift away from a traditionally Eurocentric worldview and culture [in the Church].”

   Noting the intense work of “healing, growth and reform” awaiting Pope Francis, Father McCallum said he would be keeping the Holy Father in his prayers every day. He also said he’s looking forward to seeing the effects of the first Jesuit pope locally. “If, because of this election, people start to ask, ‘What’s a Jesuit?’ and begin to discover a bit about us, our heritage and our spirituality — that would be exciting.”

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