So we have a Jesuit pope. First one ever: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. That means the Society of Jesus, which is the full name for the Jesuit order of priests, is in the spotlight in a big way. Along with the renewed attention for an order once considered renegade within the Catholic Church come questions about who Jesuits are exactly, what they stand for and how they’ve managed, on occasion, to get themselves into hot water with the Holy See.
We sat down with a local Jesuit priest, the Rev. Richard G. Malloy, S.J., the jean-jacket-wearing, lake-fishing, ballcap-topped vice president for mission and ministry at The University of Scranton, one of the nation’s 28 Jesuit institutions of higher education. Malloy is a scholar and author — he wrote “A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century” and ruminates on Catholicism on jesuitjottings.blogspot.com — and heads the University Ministries Division, which includes Campus Ministries, the International Service Program and the Community Outreach Office. Malloy, 57, also teaches cultural anthropology at the university, where he lives in a freshman dormitory. Ask him about that some time.
Times Leader: What’s different about the Jesuits?
Malloy: “Jesuits are fascinated by God. St. Ignatius Loyola (who founded the Society of Jesus in 1539) pushed to seek a spirituality in all things.”
He added Jesuits are known for founding educational institutions, such as universities, serving the poor and advocating for social and economic justice. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Jesuits do vow to obey the pope. (So that’s one reason to dismiss that renegade notion.)
“I think one of the things Jesuits do is we dialogue with the culture. We help them discover where God is.”
TL: Why did it take so long for a Jesuit to become pope?
Malloy: Jesuits generally do not aspire to higher office, making even a Jesuit bishop a rarity. They will, however, take a higher office if instructed by their superior.
“We’re all really excited. Frankly, we’re stunned. Now we can’t complain he doesn’t know us.”
TL: Do Jesuits have a reputation as radical intellectuals?
M: “I wish we were as radical as people think.”
But he added the Jesuits have had a controversial history.
“The Jesuits had schools all over Europe. Some powerful people didn’t like what the Jesuits were doing in the New World, Portugal. In 1773, the pope (Clement XIV) said no more Jesuits. … France and Spain murdered priests. In 1814, Catherine the Great kept a flicker of the Society alive.”
He noted some Jesuits in more recent memory were indeed radical, such as the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, who with his brother Philip, a former Josephite priest, made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for their antiwar protests during the Vietnam war, and the Rev. John Dear, who was arrested scores of times in anti-war and anti-nuclear-weapons protests.
“We have been the thinkers; we have been the philosophers; we have been the ones pushing the envelope.”
TL: Are those the reasons Jesuits are still controversial?
M: Jesuits are in Nogales (Arizona) and Sonora (Mexico) on both sides of the border.
“Jesuits are down there trying to advocate for immigrants.”
But most Jesuits just get up in the morning and go about their business serving others.
“The Jesuit way is we pray, then we serve — all for the glory of God.” (That’s the Jesuit motto, by the way, and what the acronym AMDG means: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam — for the greater glory of God. You’ll sometimes see it inscribed in various locations at Jesuit institutions or used in literature.)
TL: Why did you decide to become a Jesuit?
M: “I have found this incredible reality within the Society of Jesus. … I went to Lafayette because they gave me money for football. It was a curious set of circumstances. I ended up working in a nursing home one summer. I was surprised at how much fun it was to serve lunch to these people.”
He explained he was able to gently pick up one man who was dying to put him into bed.
“It brought joy to him. I thought about being a priest when I was little. (But) I kind of bumbled into it.”
Early on, he served three years during a turbulent time in Osorno and Santiago in Chile, when the government was torturing people.
TL: Did you ever feel you were in danger?
M: “Osorno was like the Nebraska of Chile. The people were nice. I asked to go to Santiago. We had some people we dealt with who were being chased. We helped hide them.”
“No one really appreciates the rule of law in the United States. That’s why I worry about drones and things with the Patriot Act. You realize things can go awry.”