Faith and Justice

Simplicity and moderation, serenity and savvy: remembering Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

Faith and Justice
Photo by Charles Barry

Born in the Netherlands in 1928, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. led the Jesuits for a quarter century, beginning in 1983. In October 2000, he delivered a landmark address on the Mission Campus that called for a new way of defining Jesuit education.

Here at Santa Clara, President Paul Locatelli, S.J. ’60 took that to heart in broadening the educational mission of the University. Fr. Kolvenbach died in November in Beirut, Lebanon, where he had served as a Jesuit since retiring as Superior General in 2008. Here we offer excerpts of his Santa Clara address, “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education”:

Thanks to science and technology, human society is able to solve problems such as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, or developing more just conditions of life, but remains stubbornly unable to accomplish this. How can a booming economy, the most prosperous and global ever, still leave over half of humanity in poverty?

Injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and its solution requires a spiritual conversion of each one’s heart and a cultural conversion of our global society so that humankind, with all the powerful means at its disposal, might exercise the will to change the sinful structures afflicting our world.

Such is the world in all its complexity, with great global promises and countless tragic betrayals. Such is the world in which Jesuit institutions of higher education are called to serve faith and promote justice.

Today’s predominant ideology reduces the human world to a global jungle whose primordial law is the survival of the fittest. Students who subscribe to this view want to be equipped with well-honed professional and technical skills in order to compete in the market and secure one of the relatively scarce fulfilling and lucrative jobs available. This is the success which many students (and parents!) expect.

All American universities, ours included, are under tremendous pressure to opt entirely for success in this sense. But what our students want—and deserve—includes but transcends this “worldly success” based on marketable skills. The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become.

To read and listen to the address in its entirety, click here.

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