Remembering Jesuits’ ‘Second Founder’

The Rev. Pedro Arrupe’s story begins in Spain where he quit medical school to join the Society of Jesus. The government exiled Jesuits from that country in the 1930s, so Arrupe moved from country to country before being sent to Japan in 1937. Stationed four miles outside Hiroshima, he survived the atomic bomb dropped on the city and used his medical skills to aid the wounded.

Surviving the blast alone made Arrupe an internationally known figure. But it was only one chapter in the life of a man many credit with transforming the Society of Jesus’ mission to narrow in on faith and justice.

Georgetown celebrated the 100th anniversary of Arrupe’s birth on Nov. 14 by premiering a documentary “Pedro Arrupe: His Life and Legacy.” The university commissioned the film to honor Arrupe, who often is called the Jesuit’s “second founder” — after the order’s original founder St. Ignatius of Loyola — because of his wide reforms to the Jesuit order.

Admirers of Arrupe packed Bunn Intercultural Center’s auditorium for the documentary. The movie follows Arrupe’s life from his childhood in Spain to his death in 1991, charting how his missionary work helped change the course of history.

“For most of us of a certain age, this is a very emotional film to watch,” the Rev. Philip Boroughs, S.J., vice president of mission and ministry, said.

Arrupe’s mark on the Jesuits is still felt today. During Vatican II, when the Church strove to modernize itself to reach out to more people, Arrupe in 1965 became superior general of the Society of Jesus. He pressed fellow Jesuits to serve more marginalized people and fight for justice. Turmoil within  the Jesuit order marked Arrupe’s time in the position because some dissenters believed he made too radical changes and politicized the order.

But Arrupe pressed ahead and saw the defining moment of his leadership in 1975 at a general congregation of the Society. A new decree — “Our Mission Today: the Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice” — declared promoting justice indispensable to Jesuits.

The decree helped focus the mission of Jesuits worldwide, and its effects also are seen at Georgetown, where one of the Ignatian values is faith and justice.

“He was a man whose extraordinary example of courage, concern and generosity earned him the respect and love not only of the extended Jesuit community, but of all who believe, as he did, that faith can never be separated from justice,” President John J. DeGioia said.

Arrupe lived by the value of “men and women for others” — also an Ignatian value at Georgetown.

“I saw Arrupe in Seattle a few months before I entered the Jesuits. I never saw him again, but the power of that encounter certainly was relived tonight,” Boroughs said. “The power of this man and his vision of who we could be as Jesuits with our colleagues and in the Church was so inspiring and certainly sustaining.”

Despite bearing witness to horrible atrocities, Arrupe believed God is everywhere in the world. He often said, “All are called to know and serve God,” and put that belief into practice through his missionary work.

Arrupe’s faith in that credo would be severely tested when Jesuit missions in Latin American came under attack and priests were murdered. Yet he declared guerillas responsible for the murders were worthy of spiritual help, recalled the Rev. Howard Gray, S.J., special assistant to the president.

“They are human beings,” Gray said recounting Arrupe words. “They’re souls who are suffering and if you have a wounded person, even if he is a guerilla, you have to help him. That is the meaning of being a Good Samaritan.”

The documentary is a poignant, but often amusing look at Arrupe’s life and interactions with the Vatican. Produced by Frank Frost, Mary Frost and Michael Ritter, the project became a labor of love, said Tony Moore, special assistant to the president, who also worked on the film.

“In some way we came to know Father Arrupe and he actually came alive to us over the past year,” Moore said. “At times it almost seemed he was working through us helping to resolve whatever problems came up.”

In one instance, the filmmakers found archival footages of Arrupe and his work in a collection in Rome. But the material was inaccessible without the proper equipment. The Director of the Jesuit Archives in Rome then offered to ship 75 pounds of video materials to the U.S., where it could be digitized.

Now that the work is done, the filmmakers have plans for its distribution, including approaching PBS about televising the documentary. But first members of the Society Arrupe helped to mold and the greater Jesuit-affiliated community will see it.

“We intend to put it online so it can by viewed by a wider audience,” Moore said. “We also will send copies to all of the other Jesuit universities, colleges, high schools and provincials.”

By Lauren Burgoon, Blue & Gray Assistant Editor