Story by Marny Lombard
Many Americans see the Society of Jesus through a single prism: Jesuits’ work in the United States. We know Jesuits rich in faith, wisdom, years – Jesuits who teach and collaborate with laity, supporting lay vocations and deepening our knowledge of Jesuit spirituality. And we now know Pope Francis, a voice of service and humility.
But one Jesuit in particular on Gonzaga’s campus knows how incomplete this vision is, given the international whole of the Society. During 18 years in Rome, Father Frank Case, S.J., absorbed a nuanced education in the Society’s global works. In 1990, the Seattle native became regional assistant representing U.S. Jesuits to Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. In 2005, he was named general secretary, the Society’s No. 2 position. Six days a week, he and other advisers met with the father general for briefings on matters Jesuit all over the world. Fr. Case maintains a determined modesty about his years in Rome, yet he shares rich experiences:
“Africa was marvelous to watch. With our Oregon Province twinned with Zambia, we still have about five men from our province in Zambia. The Europeans were de-colonizing, shall we say, their missionary presence, so we were able to help the African society grow. Now a lot of young Africans have gone through their studies and are becoming leaders. There are a lot of young provincials in Africa – some too early, perhaps, but those are exigencies that you simply can’t avoid. It’s neat to see them take ownership of their society and of the African Church, which is burgeoning, full of life and vitality.”
Asia comes next. The subcontinent of India holds the largest population of Jesuits in the world – more than 4,000 of 18,000 Jesuits worldwide. Many cultures exist in close proximity in India, with attendant tensions among the people and the Jesuits. Vietnam sees healthy Jesuit growth, he says, with 20 to 40 vocations per year. China has two often polarized strands of the Catholic Church, the government-run Catholic Patriotic Association and the underground Church. Until seven or eight years ago in Shanghai the archbishops of both entities were Jesuits who studied together as novices.
“Do you know about the MBA program in Beijing?” Fr. Case asked. This Jesuit program in China grew out of the government’s distress over ‘brain drain.’ In a sign of its trust of the Jesuits, Fr. Case said, the Chinese government asked the American Jesuit universities to collaborate in creating a U.S.-style MBA program in Beijing. Twenty-six U.S. Jesuit universities took part. The program began in 1998 and thrived until publicity on its successes upset the unusual arrangement. “The Chinese had placed the program in the Department of Waterworks, not the Department of Education, to safeguard it from bureaucratic pressures,” he said. Too much limelight spelled the end of that program, yet China continues to tolerate a Jesuit presence.
The fall of the Iron Curtain was still reverberating when Fr. Case arrived in Rome.
“When the Berlin Wall collapsed,” he said, “we had people coming out of the woodwork. They had been Jesuits for years, living in utter clandestinity. In one case, two blood brothers were Jesuits, and neither knew about the other. That was the level of secrecy needed all through Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania. One Jesuit was a nuclear physicist in Lithuania. He sat on the equivalent of the Russian atomic energy commission, and certainly no one knew that he was a Jesuit.”
Four Jesuits in Romania were well into their seventies; during decades of secrecy, one had been the provincial for 37 years.
“You can imagine what it was like for all of these Jesuits – with their new freedom – to have to become more transparent and to catch up with the Society of Jesus and all that it had gone through with Vatican II and the general congregations since then.”
The many international changes and upheavals that occurred in the years since Vatican II made for a particularly rich and complex time. Fr. Case cites Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who said that Vatican II marked the transition from the end of the Euro-centric Church to the beginning of the global Church. “That tension is still in the process. Living through part of that and being over there during those years was a fascinating thing to see,” Fr. Case said. “Pope John Paul II was really good at taking the Church to different countries, and canonizing saints who were important for local areas. Canonizing Kateri Tekakwitha, for instance, was a wonderful step for the Native American people.”
While Europe continues to support a handful of Jesuit universities, “a lot of those Jesuit houses of study are huge and under-populated. We do an awful lot of work with journalism, print media in Europe and lots of work in spirituality; a number of people work with youth – all efforts to regenerate interest in the Church,” he said.
With the election in March of Pope Francis, Fr. Case said, “We Jesuits share a feeling of gratitude with the entire Church. He is a simple, humble man, deeply rooted in our Ignatian spirituality, possessing a strong solidarity with the world’s poor, and firmly committed to issues surrounding global justice. I look forward to hearing and seeing how and in what directions he will lead us.”
Over the years, Fr. Case has observed three general congregations – in 1983, 1995 and 2008 – the international meetings in Rome where Jesuits elect their next leader and set direction for the order’s mission. The following incident took place on the eve of the 35th General Congregation:
“The day before the general congregation started in January 2008 was a Sunday, and I had gone down to the open air market in Rome, which I did most Sunday mornings – just to get out of the house and get a fresh look at life. On the way back, I saw Father Adolfo Nicolás on the tram. It was crowded and so we waved to one another and then we walked between the tram and the bus link. As we walked, he asked me what my plans were, would I stay on as secretary or did I want to return to the states? I said, ‘Father Kolvenbach says that I may have to stay on for a year or two of transition. But I’m praying like crazy that the Holy Spirit will send us a new general who will be wise, understanding and compassionate enough to know that 18 years in the Curia is long enough for anyone.”
Fr. Case explains that Fr. Nicolás was not seen as a strong candidate to become father general because of his age. “But lo and behold, he was elected. And he told me, ‘The number one thing on my priority list is to find a successor to you.” That was quickly done.
Fr. Case returns to the key ideas that arose from those general congregations, including:
- Service of faith which promotes justice – the justice of the Gospels.
- Service of faith in dialogue with those of other faiths.
- And finally, the work of love and reconciliation. “In a globalized world, we should be instruments of reconciliation – people with God, people with other people and people with the created world.”
These are the riches that Fr. Case brings to Gonzaga. He is comfortable and happy, he says, helping to implement the Jesuit charism on this campus – “living out what we dreamed about in those general congregations.”
ONE STEP, THEN ANOTHER
Father Frank Case, S.J., has been busy in his fi rst two years at Gonzaga. He led a revision of Gonzaga’s Mission Statement, safeguarding the essence of the mission, while focusing on new and concise wording. Faculty and staff who worked with him on the revision “had a great shared sense that we were doing something wonderful for the University and the mission,” Fr. Case said.
Fr. Case also has worked with President Thayne McCulloh to create a Statement of Affirmation articulating Gonzaga’s identity as a Jesuit, Catholic and humanistic university. Guided by a Mission Advisory Council, Fr. Case has developed more chances for faculty and staff to learn about Jesuit spirituality, including the new Busy Persons Retreats. And finally, Fr. Case serves as chaplain for students in Twohy Hall.
“We all have to take responsibility for the mission. I think it’s going very well. We do things incrementally, and I am an incrementalist.”