Peter Hans Kolvenbach

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Peter Hans Kolvenbach

29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Kolvenbach in 1984
Installed13 September 1983
Term ended14 January 2008
PredecessorPedro Arrupe
SuccessorAdolfo Nicolás Pachón
Ordination29 June 1961
by Armenian Catholic Church
Personal details
Peter Hans Kolvenbach

(1928-09-30)30 September 1928
Died26 November 2016(2016-11-26) (aged 88)
Beirut, Lebanon
BuriedCollège Notre Dame de Jamhour, Beirut
OccupationJesuit professor, linguist
EducationCanisius College, Nijmegen
Alma materUniversité de Saint-Joseph, Beirut

Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ (30 November 1928 – 26 November 2016) was a Dutch Jesuit priest and professor who was the 29th superior general of the Society of Jesus, the largest male Catholic religious order.

Early years[edit]

Kolvenbach's childhood was born and grew up in Druten, near Nijmegen in the Netherlands.[1] There he attended Canisius College for his secondary studies, where he concentrated on modern languages. He entered the novitiate at Mariendaal on 7 September 1948. After completing philosophy studies at Berchmans Institute in Nijmegen, he was assigned to Lebanon, where he completed his doctorate in Sacred Theology at Université de Saint-Joseph in Beirut. On 29 June 1961, he was ordained a priest in the Armenian Catholic Church, an Eastern-rite church in communion with Rome.[2]

The next years of his life were spent in academia, specifically in linguistics. From 1964 to 1976 he taught general and Oriental linguistics in The Hague, Paris, and then Beirut where he became Professor of General Linguistics and Armenian at Université Saint-Joseph. He served in that capacity until 1981, when he became rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute.[2]

During his time on the faculty of Saint-Joseph, he also served as superior of the Jesuit vice-province of the Middle East.[citation needed]

Father General[edit]

On 7 August 1981, Father General Pedro Arrupe suffered a severe stroke in the plane on his way back to Rome. Although he survived for another ten years, he wanted to step down as Superior General. Though Arrupe proposed Vincent O'Keefe of Fordham University as interim successor, Pope John Paul II intervened and named Paolo Dezza his delegate to lead the order for an interim period.[3] Two years later John Paul II allowed the Jesuits to proceed in selecting their new leader. Meeting in September 1983, the 33rd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus accepted the formal resignation of Father Arrupe and on the first ballot elected Father Kolvenbach to be 29th Superior General of the Jesuits.[4]

Kolvenbach took office at a time when the Jesuits' "strongly pro-social justice and church reform orientation was seen by critics as having made the Jesuits something akin to John Paul’s in-house opposition. ...Over time, Kolvenbach was credited with having managed to win back the trust of John Paul II and his Vatican team, without alienating the more liberal members of the order."[5][6]

Meeting a fellow Jesuit personally.

He is credited with successfully defending French Jesuit theologian Jacques Dupuis from charges made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Fr. Thomas J. Reese who was removed as editor of America magazine by the insistence of the Vatican says that he “always felt that Kolvenbach did everything he could to defend me." He manifested his personal interest in each Jesuit's work, with an interest in meeting each Jesuit individually.”[7] He traveled extensively to visit Jesuits in 112 countries, and “his knowledge of them and their ministries is legendary.” He also emphasized the need to make laypersons feel their place of equal partnership in Jesuit ministries, recognizing with Vatican II that “holiness is one - that sanctity is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God'." He expressed his belief that “the church of the next millennium will be called the 'church of the laity' ...this development is a 'grace of our day and a hope for the future'."[8]

Resignation and retirement[edit]

Kolvenbach in Goa, India, in 2006
Grave in Collège Notre Dame de Jamhour

On 2 February 2006, Kolvenbach informed the members of the Society of Jesus that he intended to step down in 2008, the year he would turn 80. As the Superior General is elected for life, Kolvenbach was only the second to resign the office.

The 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus convened on 5 January 2008 in Rome. On 14 January it accepted Kolvenbach's resignation and elected Adolfo Nicolás as his successor.[9]

Kolvenbach died in Beirut on 26 November 2016 and is buried outside Beirut on the grounds of Collège Notre Dame de Jamhour.[10] He left just before his death a personal letter to a young medicine doctor, Anthony Kallas-Chemaly, who worked with him on the history of the Jesuits.


  1. ^ Daphne Daume; J. E. Davis (1984). Britannica Book of the Year: 1984. ill. (some col.), maps, ports. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-85229-417-8.
  2. ^ a b Wooden, Cindy (28 November 2016). "Father Kolvenbach, former Jesuit superior, dies in Beirut". National Catholic Reporter. Catholic News Service. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  3. ^ Stanley, Alexandra (22 December 1999). "Cardinal Paolo Dezza, 98; Guided the Jesuits". New York Times. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Dutchman Elected Leader of Jesuits". New York Times. 14 September 1983. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  5. ^ "Former Jesuit leader who faced stiff tests dies at 87". Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  6. ^ "The death of Fr Kolvenbach, a Jesuit to the core - La Croix International". Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  7. ^ "Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, leader of Jesuits at a tumultuous time, dies at 87". America Magazine. 2016-11-26. Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  8. ^ "Australian Jesuits - Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J". 2007-09-29. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  9. ^ "Spaniard becomes Jesuits' New 'Black Pope'". Reuters. 19 January 2008. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  10. ^ Cosacchi, Daniel (26 November 2016). "The Spiritual Legacy of Peter-Hans Kolvenbach". America. Retrieved 29 November 2016.


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Succeeded by