This year, 5 February marked the 28th
anniversary of the death of the Society’s 28th Superior General, Fr Pedro Arrupe. The anniversary is made particularly important since it also marked the official opening of the cause for his beatification and canonisation in Rome.
Fr Arrupe was born in Spain in 1907. After school he attended the Medical School of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and, after several years of medical training, joined the Society of Jesus in 1927. Unable to pursue his studies for the priesthood in Spain since the Order had been expelled by the Spanish Republican government, he carried out his studies in Belgium, the Netherlands, and St Louis University School of Divinity, Kansas, where he was ordained in 1936. He then completed a doctorate in Medical Ethics.
After his doctorate, Fr Arrupe was sent to work as a missionary in Japan and was appointed superior and novice master in 1942. He was living in suburban Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell in August 1945 and was one of 8 Jesuits who were within the blast zone of the bomb, all 8 of whom survived the destruction. Fr Arrupe used his medical skills to help those who were wounded or dying, and the Jesuit novitiate was converted into a makeshift hospital where up to 200 people received care. In 1958, Fr Arrupe was appointed the first Jesuit provincial for Japan, a position he held until being elected Father General in 1965. Only the second Basque to be Father General, after Saint Ignatius of Loyola, he remained in that post until 1983.
During his tenure as Father General, one of Fr Arrupe’s most important initiatives was the founding of the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1980, initially in response to the plight of the refugees fleeing the Vietnam War, but which still helps refugees today. In 2017, JRS was present in 52 countries, over 200,000 people were served through education programmes, and more than 180,000 people were served through psychosocial support.
Throughout this time, Fr Arrupe travelled extensively to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, India, Sri Lanka, North America, Latin America, Europe and the Far East, “in order that I might be more aware of the opportunities and difficulties which arise” (ref. 3/4). In January 1970, he visited the Jesuits in England and Scotland. “As there was no hall in the Jesuit Residence at Farm Street in London large enough to accommodate the number of persons who came to meet him, a meeting was arranged at the nearby Piccadilly Hotel. This occasion was particularly for the relatives and friends of the Jesuits.” (George Bishop, Pedro Arrupe SJ (Gracewing: 2007) p.235). As part of his visit Fr Arrupe concelebrated the Eucharist at Farm Street Church in London with Cardinal Heenan, the Apostolic Delegate to Britain, and Archbishop Roberts, and took part in an interview for the BBC. In an address given, probably at the Mass at Farm Street on 23 January, Provincial Fr Terence Corrigan related that
During the last four days he has successfully and exactly fulfilled a programme that would have dismayed many men – it has certainly dismayed me! He has had long meetings and discussions with Jesuits and our friends in nine different centre, besides meeting relatives and friends of Jesuits in Glasgow and Preston. He has travelled to Heythrop, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stonyhurst, Preston, Manchester and Liverpool, and now in London he still has the television cameras to face, before his departure for Rome tomorrow morning. (ref. 3/4)
A proposed timetable for the visit is pictured above, but an even more detailed diary of events, as well as the texts of homilies, speeches and interviews, can be found in a special edition of Letters and Notices (July 1970).
On 7 August 1981, Fr Arrupe suffered a stroke after a flight from Bangkok to Rome. He resigned as Superior General in 1983 as his ability to speak degenerated. From then on lived in the infirmary at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. Fr Arrupe died on 5 February 1991. His funeral was held in the Church of the Gesù in Rome and was attended by crowds that filled the piazza outside the church.