Twenty-eighth Superior General (1965–1983) of the Society of Jesus (jesuits); b. Bilbao, Spain, Nov. 14, 1907; d. Rome, Feb. 5, 1991.
Early Years. The only boy among five children, Pedro Arrupe was the son of a well-to-do architect, who enabled him to receive a good education. He decided to become a physician, but in 1927, just before completing medical studies in Madrid, he felt the call to religious life and entered the Society of Jesus. When the Spanish Republic expelled all Jesuits in 1932, Arrupe studied for the priesthood in Holland and in Belgium, where he was ordained in 1936. Afterwards he continued his education in the United States.
In answer to his frequent requests Arrupe was assigned to Japan in 1938. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was imprisoned for thirty-three days on false charges of spying. At the time that the first atomic bomb exploded on Aug. 6, 1945, he was director of novices in Nagatsuka, on the outskirts of Hiroshima.
Arrupe rushed into the ruins to treat the wounded, and turning the Jesuit residence into a hospital, he supervised the care of more than 200 survivors for six months. In 1958 the Japanese mission was raised to a province, and Arrupe was named the first provincial superior.
Superior General. On May 22, 1965 Arrupe was elected superior general by the Thirty-first General Congregation, the legislative body of the Society of Jesus. The first Basque to lead the Jesuits since their founder, St. ignatius of loyola, he was eminently suited to lead the Society in the era following vatican council ii. Arrupe was a man of international experience and vision, who could bridge East and West because he had lived and worked in both areas, spoke the languages, and appreciated different cultures. He realized that the center of gravity of worldwide Christianity was moving toward Asia and Africa. As a veteran and well-traveled missionary he had learned to adapt the Christian message and the ways of the Church to different cultures.
As superior general, Arrupe felt his mandate was to promote the renewal of Jesuit life in accord with the norms set down by Vatican II: a continuous return to the Gospel and the original inspiration of the founder and at the same time an adaptation to the changed conditions of the times. Arrupe was the first Jesuit general to travel extensively. He visited six continents, enabling him to meet and speak with thousands of Jesuits. His simplicity, warmth, vigor, candor, and obvious expertise made him an instant hit with his brother Jesuits, who referred to him affectionately as "Don Pedro."
Having come face-to-face with the dehumanizing poverty that afflicts a vast part of the human race, Arrupe had by 1970 reached a strong conviction that never left him: religious faith, to be truly evangelical, had to be vigorous in promoting justice and in opposing injustice, oppression, and social evils such as poverty, hunger, and all forms of racial discrimination. One of his earliest letters as superior general was written in 1967 to the Jesuits in the United States on racial discrimination and the interracial apostolate. The letter had wide repercussions and served the Society as a kind of "Magna Carta" for the interracial aspects of its work all over the world.
Arrupe's influence went far beyond Jesuit circles. He attended the last session of the Second Vatican Council, speaking twice before the general assembly. In 1967 he was elected to the first of five consecutive terms as president of the Union of Superior Generals, which represented some 300,000 male religious throughout the world. He participated in and spoke at all the international synods of bishops from 1967 to 1980. Arrupe took part in the great meetings of Latin American bishops in Medellín, Colombia (1968) and in Puebla, Mexico (1979), and in episcopal symposia in Europe and Africa. Quick to sense the magnitude of the worldwide refugee problem, he launched a program in 1980 throughout the Society to meet the desperate needs of millions of displaced persons, particularly in Southeast Asia and Africa.
Relations with the Holy See. Arrupe confessed that he had three great loves: Jesus Christ, the Church, and the Society of Jesus. For him the central figure in the Church was the pope, to whom he pledged himself and the Society, fostering the special bond of love and service that has linked the Society to the pope since its very beginning. He served under three popes: paul vi, john paul i, and john paul ii. Two of his favorite photographs showed him kneeling and receiving the blessings of Paul VI and John Paul II as he pledged the service of the Society to them.
No one was superior to Pedro Arrupe in loyalty and dedication to the Holy Father, and any meeting with the pope was a very special moment in his life. That is why moments of tension and of misunderstandings with the popes caused him so much pain. In certain Vatican circles, Arrupe was categorized as somewhat naive, an incurable optimist, and more a charismatic and inspirational leader than a strong administrator who could control his men.
During the Thirty-second General Congregation a conflict arose between Paul VI and the participants, with Arrupe in the eye of the storm. The main issue was a possible change in who would be eligible to pronounce the fourth vow of special obedience to the pope. Led by Arrupe's example, the Congregation exercised an act of obedience to the wishes of Paul VI, who was also concerned lest a spirit of social and political activism should undermine the Society's priestly ministries. Peaceful relations were restored and remained warm and friendly until Paul VI's death in 1978.
A more critical period began in April 1980 when Arrupe informed Pope John Paul II of his plans to resign as superior general and to convoke a General Congregation to elect his successor. Disconcerted by this information, the pope wrote to Arrupe on May 1, 1980, and asked him to postpone this step for the good of the Church and of the Society. The pope discussed the situation at a meeting with Arrupe in January 1981. Meanwhile the press carried reports and rumors of a rift between the Holy Father and the Society, stressing of the Holy See's apparent loss of confidence in Jesuit leadership. A second meeting took place in April 1981. The discussions were interrupted, first by the attempt to assassinate John Paul II on May 13, 1981, and then by a severe and permanently disabling stroke that Arrupe suffered when he returned Aug. 7, 1981 from a long trip to the Philippines and the refugee camps in Bangkok. After consulting with his doctors, on August 10 Arrupe named one of his assistants vicar general for the duration of his illness, in accord with the Constitutions of the Society.
On Oct. 5, 1981, Pope John Paul II intervened. He appointed Paolo Dezza as his personal delegate to govern the Society. At the same time the pope also appointed Giuseppe Pittau, SJ, to be Dezza's coadjutor with the right of succession. Arrupe remained the superior general but was unable to function. John Paul II clarified the unusual situation by stating that, in postponing the General Congregation and naming his own delegate, he had suspended the Jesuit Constitutions on these two points only.
Dezza convoked a meeting in Rome of all the Jesuit provincials and assistants and counsellors of the General Curia from Feb. 23 to March 3, 1982. In a series of conferences Dezza informed the participants of the concerns and hopes of the pope for the Society. The highlight of the meeting was the audience with John Paul II and his address to the participants. The pope greeted the superior general with great affection: "To Father Arrupe, present here in the eloquent silence of his infirmity, offered to God for the good of the Society, I wish to express, on this occasion particularly solemn for the life and history of your Order, the thanks of the Pope and of the Church!" John Paul II expressed gratitude for the way his decision had been accepted, and after mentioning his concern for the order, he asked the Society to help him and all the bishops implement the Second Vatican Council, just as Paul III had asked Ignatius and his companions to help the Church to implement the Council of Trent. At the end of his address, the pope invited the order to convoke a General Congregation.
A Spiritual and Apostolic Legacy. The Thirty-third General Congregation assembled in Rome in September 1983. Arrupe offered his resignation, and Peter-Hans Kolvenbach was elected to succeed him. After his resignation as superior general, Arrupe's life was one of silent and patient prayer and suffering. In the end Arrupe left a rich spiritual and apostolic legacy in his addresses and writings. Among these are: Challenge to Religious Life Today (1979); Justice With Faith Today (1980); Other Apostolates Today (1981); and In Him Alone Is Our Hope: Texts On The Heart of Christ (1984). Always a faithful Jesuit, Arrupe articulated ideas that were developed in the Thirty-third General Congregation, which emphasized "a spiritual doctrine at once profoundly rooted in the Gospel and our tradition and yet one which responds to the challenges of our times."
During Arrupe's final illness John Paul II came to visit him in the Jesuit Curia, regretting that Arrupe's condition prevented them from conversing. After several days in a comatose state, Pedro Arrupe died peacefully in the Jesuit infirmary, surrounded by his Jesuit brothers.
Bibliography: p. arrupe, One Jesuit's Spiritual Journey. Autobiographical Conversations with Jean-Claude Dietsch, S.J. (St. Louis 1986). j.-y. calvez, Le Père Arrupe: L'Église apès le Concile. (Paris 1997). y. t. demola, trans. Recollections and Reflections of Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (Wilmington 1986). g. hunt, ed. "Pedro Arrupe, S.J. 1907–1991." America 164:6 (1991) 138–188. p. m. lamet, Arrupe Una Explosión En La Iglesia. (Madrid 1989).