Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Passes Away
From the Jesuit Curia in Rome
Former Superior General of the Society of Jesus Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, has died. He died in Beirut, Lebanon, on Saturday, November 26, 2016. He was the 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, serving from 1983 to 2008. Born on 30 November 1928, Father Kolvenbach entered the Society on 7 September 1948. He was ordained on 29 June 1961. He pronounced his final vows in the Society on 15 August 1969. On 13 September 1983, on the first ballot, he was elected the 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus.
As a young man, lived most of his teen years during the German occupation of the Netherlands. He would later note that experiencing war was not an uncommon experience in the formation of a Superior General. It was the experience of Ignatius at Pamplona, and the experience of his predecessor, Pedro Arrupe, who witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb. Father Kolvenbach also lived in the midst of war in Beirut as a professor of linguistics and working with refugees in Lebanon.
In an interview with the Jesuit run America Media in 2007, Father Kolvenbach noted that while living in the midst of war emphasizes the fragility of human life, the sound of a bird singing after a night of terror announces that “death will never have the last word in the Creator’s will.”
Father Kolvenbach spent many years in academic life, primarily teaching linguistics in Lebanon. He was named the Vice Provincial of the Near East, made up of the regions of Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. In 1981, he was appointed as Rector at the Oriental Institute in Rome, a position he held until his election as Superior General.
Upon his election, Kolvenbach carried out his responsibilities with energy and compassion. He visited as many Jesuit provinces and individual Jesuits as he could. His was a calming presence in the midst of the many questions the Jesuits faced both within and outside the Church. In 1995, he presided over the 34th General Congregation of the Jesuits, which addressed issues including the mission of the Society in the modern world and the impact of the revision of Canon Law.
In February 2006, Kolvenbach informed the members of the Society of Jesus of his intention to step down in 2008. His resignation was accepted at the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. Shortly after General Congregation 35, Father Kolvenbach returned to Beirut, where he worked as a librarian until his death.