Pedro Arrupe

Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1991)

28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus (1965-1983)

Pedro Arrupe was born in 1907 in Spain and grew up to be a good soccer player, a medical doctor, a Jesuit priest and the 28th head of the worldwide Society of Jesus.  He liked the theatre, music and opera.  He spoke six languages fluently. He offered Mass at dawn at the summit of Japan’s sacred Mount Fuji, and was in Hiroshima when the first atom bomb fell there.  Throughout the tumult and pain of the world around him during most of the 20th Century, Arrupe remained optimistic, humorous and amazingly effective.  He aimed the entire Society of Jesus toward care of the poorest of the poor – their bodies and souls – and helped to transform the Catholic Church worldwide.

Early Life in Spain and the USA
Arrupe was born in Bilbao, in the Basque area of northeastern Spain.  He was the youngest, and only boy, of five children.  Their mother died when Pedro was eight.  After finishing college, Arrupe went on to study medicine in Madrid.  Then when he was 18, his father died.  To ease the grief, Arrupe and his sisters traveled to Lourdes, where he offered his medical skill to the Lourdes Medical Verification Bureau.  Seeing several miraculous healings with his own eyes, coupled with boyhood memories of helping the most destitute of the poor, led him to enter the Society of Jesus in 1927.  He spent several years studying in the USA – psychiatry research in Washington DC, theology at St. Mary’s, Kansas and his final year of Jesuit training in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1936, he was ordained a priest. 

Missionary at Hiroshima
Arrupe wanted to be a missionary, and his desire was granted in 1938.  He was assigned to Japan, and thought he would spend his life there.  Things began well, as he studied the language and the nation’s culture, but then the Japanese government, preparing for what became its part in World War II, imprisoned him for “espionage”.  He was released just in time to be in charge of Jesuit novices near Hiroshima.  He was director of novices as the atom bomb exploded over the city on August 6, 1945.  This catastrophe changed his life.  It deepened his dependence on God and opened his eyes to “what is deadly and truly terrible about force and violence.”  He identified with the poor and powerless of the world for the rest of his life.

Tapped for Leadership
In 1958, Arrupe was put in charge of all Jesuit work in Japan, and all its 200 Jesuits.  In 1965, he went to Rome to help elect the new head of the Jesuit order and was surprised to be elected to the job himself.  Soon he became integral to the Vatican II Council, participating in debates and drafting documents that helped changed the Catholic Church.  It was the 1960s-1970s.  Humankind itself was in upheaval. Arrupe was a rock of optimism, wisdom and trust in God. He urged everyone to respond to the needs of the world with courage, generosity and hope.  His personal concern was the poor – victims of war, racism, hunger, political exploitation, displacement — the millions of forgotten people struggling to survive.  Because of Arrupe’s speeches and writings, “Educating Men and Women for Others” (see link below) became the unofficial motto of many Jesuit institutions in the USA and elsewhere.

Later Years
In 1973, Arrupe called the Jesuits to an official general meeting (known as a General Congregation) in Rome.  His intellect, experience and influence aimed the Society of Jesus toward a “faith that does justice” — a formal declaration that the Jesuits would align themselves with the poor of the world.  This intention had far-reaching effects; one small example is the Cristo Rey grade schools in many parts of the USA, which educate poor Hispanic/Latino youth.  As the Jesuits launched similar efforts around the world, Arrupe then turned his attention to explaining Ignatian Spirituality as a way of approaching the complex, pressing issues of the day.  He wrote, taught, spoke and traveled widely.  He urged Jesuits, “Pray.  Pray much.  Problems such as these are not solved by human efforts.”

In September 1981, he suffered a massive stroke.  He was heart-broken when the Pope had to assign others to guide the Society, but accepted everything as God’s will for him and for the Society of Jesus.  For 10 years, he lived, prayed and gave silent witness to the power of love.  He died in 1991.

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Pedro Arrupe wrote this after he suffered a debilitating stroke, the effects of which he patiently endured for the final ten years of his life:

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.

But now there is a difference;
the initiative is entirely with God.

It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.

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Fr Arrupe’s speech, “Men for Others” (1973)
This link takes you to the address of Father Pedro Arrupe to the "Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe," in Valencia, Spain, on July 31, 1973.