Boston College Jesuits Reflect on GC36

By Kathleen Sullivan, Office of University Communications, Boston College

Rev. Joseph Costantino, S.J., Pastor of ST. IGNATIUS CHURCH in CHESTNUT HILL, MA (Photo by Gary Gilbert, Boston College)

Rev. Joseph Costantino, S.J., Pastor of ST. IGNATIUS CHURCH in CHESTNUT HILL, MA (Photo by Gary Gilbert, Boston College)

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Dean Rev. Thomas Stegman, S.J. and Rev. Joseph Costantino, S.J., a member of the Boston College Jesuit community who serves as pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, MA, were among the more than 200 delegates to the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (GC36), where Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., of Venezuela, was elected the 31st Superior General.

GC36 was convened to elect a successor to Superior General Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., who had announced in December 2014 his intention to resign after serving as Superior General since 2008. Fr. Stegman was elected as a delegate representing the Wisconsin Province, while Fr. Costantino served as a delegate from the Northeast Province. Both were participating in their first General Congregation.

“Our first order of business was to accept the resignation of Fr. Nicolás,” said Fr. Stegman. “That was very solemn. People expressed their warmth and gratitude for [his] service. After we accepted his resignation, Fr. Nicolás stepped down and took his seat in alphabetical order with the rest of us in the aula [in the Jesuit Curia in Rome]. Soon after, he announced that he would not participate in the Congregation [any more].

“That was a grace-filled moment. He was acting out of love and humility, having the Society’s well-being and mission in mind. It was a great model for all of us,” Fr. Stegman continued.

Next, the delegates were presented with the De Statu report (the state of the Society of Jesus). This was the product of one of the GC36 commissions, which took the pulse of the Society and assessed its strengths and weaknesses. The delegates used this document to determine what qualities they would look for in the next Superior General.

The next phase was the Murmurationes: a time of prayer and conversation to discern who would be the best choice for Superior General.

“It is unlike any other election,” said Fr. Costantino. “You don’t campaign. There are no candidates. You are required to pray for indifference to allow the Spirit to select the best person. There are people who have the qualities on paper, but do they really have them? That’s the Murmurationes."

Delegates have one-on-one conversations with each other, and are to answer only what is asked of them. They are encouraged to speak honestly about the positives and negatives of others as well as of themselves. “Part of the skill is learning to ask the right questions,” said Fr. Stegman.

Rev. Thomas Stegman, S.J. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini, Boston College)

Rev. Thomas Stegman, S.J. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini, Boston College)

“It’s almost a confessional moment,” added Fr. Costantino. “It’s a rare privilege to be part of that conversation.”

The election was called for on October 14th. The day began with a Mass of the Holy Spirit, after which the 212 electors, upon entering the aula, sat for an hour of quiet prayer. Though computer tablets were used throughout the General Congregation, the voting for the General was done on paper ballots signed by each elector. 

“We were looking for a strong leader, someone who could really animate and inspire us, who would call us to the best of our spiritual roots,” said Fr. Stegman. “I thought it was important for the new General to have international experience and good language skills.”

Fr. Costantino said he was looking for someone with proficiency in multiple languages, an ability to manage, and diplomacy skills.

Fr. Sosa speaks Spanish, Italian and English and understands French. He was Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Venezuela, and most recently served in Rome as Delegate for the Interprovincial Roman Houses of the Society of Jesus. 

“There was great support around Fr. Sosa,” recalled Fr. Costantino. ”Everyone rallied around having a new General. We were excited about his being elected. As time went on, people were confirmed in the fact that the Holy Spirit really was involved.”

Fr. Costantino said that one of the first things the General does after his election, is to kneel before the Cross and say the Creed. “It’s a fantastic moment.”

For Fr. Stegman, one of the highlights of GC36 was the papal visit that followed the election. On October 24th, Pope Francis spent four hours with the delegates in the aula of the Jesuit Curia. He shared morning prayer, gave an allocution, participated in a Q&A session and greeted each member. 

The next phase of GC36 was devoted to business matters (Ad Negotia). GC36 delegates discussed documents drafted based on postulata or petitions received from province congregations and from individual Jesuits. The delegates agreed on a handful of decrees. One will address governance for mission and, among other things, call for more effective ways of assessing how the Society is living out its apostolic priorities.

Another document on Jesuit life and mission, is the “one that will be of most interest to people,” said Fr. Stegman. It will address community life as mission, not just for mission. 

“How do we [educators] serve as instruments through whom God’s reign takes greater foothold? For those of us in the education apostolate, it is about forming young people whose world view is marked by compassion, whose impetus is to serve before taking. It is also about engaging in research and teaching that addresses real needs in the world.”