Many in Loyola’s Jesuit community never thought they would see a fellow Jesuit become pope.
And for good reason: In the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year history, no Jesuit had ever been pope—a string of more than 260 pontiffs that goes back to St. Peter.
Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., president and CEO of Loyola, was surprised Wednesday when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina—who took the name Pope Francis—was chosen to be the first Jesuit to lead the Catholic Church. (To read Father Garanzini’s note to the Loyola community about the election of Pope Francis, click here; to read Father’s op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, click here.; to read his comments in the Chicago Tribune, click here.)
“It is surprising to us because we normally don’t want to be in church hierarchical positions,” Garanzini told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. “We usually ask if we can turn them down.”
Loyola’s Justin Daffron, S.J., echoes the president’s comments.
“I was surprised when I heard the news,” says Daffron, Loyola’s associate provost who helps oversee academic programs for the University. “As Jesuits, we take a special vow not to seek Church office.
“There are times when Jesuits do take on offices because of the needs of the Church and the greater good, but that’s not our primary mission. So we’d been lead to believe that it would be very unlikely that there would ever be a Jesuit pope.”
The Society of Jesus, the official name of the order to which Jesuits belong, was started in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola. In the centuries since then, Jesuits have developed a reputation as world-class educators dedicated to helping the less fortunate and committed to promoting social justice.
The Jesuits are also the largest male religious order in the world, with about 19,000 members internationally, according to the website Jesuit.org. Despite such numbers, a Jesuit had never been named pope until Wednesday.
“Ignatius was originally a soldier, and from the early days of the Society of Jesus, there was a special loyalty to the popes,” says Michael Murphy, PhD, an instructor in theology at Loyola and director of Catholic Studies for the University. But the Jesuits didn’t want to diminish their role as missionaries, Murphy says, so becoming pope was never a priority for the Society.
“There’s not a lot of inclination among Jesuits to join the Vatican administration,” Murphy says. “They’re more interested in service and learning.”
Students at Loyola are excited about having a Jesuit lead the Catholic Church, but some are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the new pope.
“I think it’s good for the Jesuits to have someone in the top office of the Church,” says Eric Williamson, 21, a senior from Dallas majoring in film and media studies. “I don’t see any big changes coming right now, but I’ll stay tuned.”
Ashton Mitchell, 21, a senior from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, majoring in communication studies, agrees.
“It’s an exciting direction for the Church to go in,” she says. “And I think it’s good that they chose someone from Latin America, although I’m a little concerned about his age.”
Junior Rianne Coale, 21, a journalism major from Elmira, Mich., thinks having a Jesuit pope is a huge positive for Loyola.
“It gives Loyola one more thing to single us out: ‘The pope’s a Jesuit, you should come to a Jesuit school,’” she says. “I’m excited to see where this goes.”
So what does the election of Pope Francis mean for the Church—and the Jesuits—going forward?
“I don’t see a lot of change, but I do see influence,” says Patrick Dorsey, S.J., who’s been at Loyola since 2007 and is the former director of the University’s Sacramental Life department. “His service to the poor is commendable. He walks the talk. He’s with them, he supports them, he rides the bus with them.”
“I think his influence will be more subtle, just as Ignatius was. Whenever Ignatius went to churches, for instance, it was never the main altar he would visit, it was always the side altar. … It was between him and God.
“And I get the sense that’s the kind of personality that Pope Francis has.”
John Hardt, PhD, Loyola’s mission and identity officer and faculty member of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics in the Health Sciences Division, adds: “Knowing that the pope is a member of the Society of Jesus means we have some insight and familiarity with his personal spirituality. We appreciate and can understand his spiritual tradition.”
Murphy, the theology professor, is not sure what to expect from the new pope, but he believes Francis may be a unique man to take the Church forward.
“There’s a lot in a name,” Murphy says. “The fact that he took Francis is important. Francis of Assisi was a major, major reformer of the Church and the papacy. He was a down-to-earth saint for the people, very in touch with the poor.
“In the early days of the Church, Francis helped bring the popes back around to the Gospel, which is to serve the poor and vulnerable. And it was successful and has served the Church so very well for some 800 years.”