Reluctant Jesuits admit lay co-workers a blessing
The Jesuits' international leader Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach has told a Sydney Assembly of Australian members of the Order that their "reluctant" enlisting of lay workers in their ministry has enriched its mission, and that lay involvement will become more integral as Jesuit numbers continue to decline.
Fr Kolvenbach, in Sydney for this week's Australian Jesuit Province Gathering, at St Ignatius College, Riverview, gave his keynote address yesterday before an audience of 130 Australian Jesuits and 70 lay companions, on the Jesuit "partnership with the laity", which he said will be the focus of the Society's next General Congregation.
"Our first steps in this direction were rather reluctant and resulted too often from our own declining numbers," he said. "We tried to make a virtue of necessity. Now we recognise that the growing partnership with the laity has enriched what we try to do."
In Australia the Jesuits were one of the last of the Orders to appoint lay principals to head secondary schools. Currently two of its four schools have Jesuit headmasters.
Fr Kolvenbach said that the "partnership" also includes "our sisters and brothers in consecrated life as well as with the diocesan clergy".
He spoke of thought being given to integrating the partnership into the governance of the Society, which he said would remain authoritarian - "pyramidal" - as was laid down by founder St Ignatius of Loyola, "to assure that each one can be missioned as the greater service of God may require".
He regretted that Australia is one of the regions in the world "where the experience of the mystery of God is smouldering".
"In some areas this experience is totally gone, and mankind is behaving as if God does not exist."
But Fr Kolvenbach noted "many signs of new life", including the "blessing" of the Province with new novices each year.
According to the Australian provincial, Fr Mark Raper, the gathering is "an opportunity for participants to explore what it means to be companions in mission". The meeting is to consider ways to manage the co-operative Jesuit-lay conduct of ministries more effectively in the contemporary world and to plan fresh initiatives.
"The approach now being adopted by the Jesuits gives authority to lay people, while enabling its institutions to retain the spirit and patterns of Jesuit governance," Fr Raper said.
The gathering, which concludes tomorrow, is considering the outcomes of a seven month long review of mission and structure. During this period, Robyn Wunder and Chris Boys (pictured) have worked with Jesuit and lay companions across the Australian Province to initiate a planning process.
Jesuit Province Gathering 2004 (Australian Jesuits 13/12/04)
Fr Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ: A Call to Mission (Jesuits Australia 13/12/04)
Jesuits Australia | Gathering 2004 | Climax of a Beginning - Province Meeting to look at planning
14 Dec 2004