WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leaders of Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States say the impact of Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, former Jesuit superior general, will be felt in their universities for years to come.
“Father Nicolas will be remembered as a leader who spoke and inspired out of a deep well of religious hope, which led him to optimism about the fruits of change in the church and in the Society of Jesus,” said Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
He said the priest, who died in Tokyo May 20 at age 84 “exemplified Christian love — especially for those on the margins of society — which he called Jesuit schools to promote across the world.”
Nicolas, who was born and raised in Spain, entered the Society of Jesus in 1953 and was ordained a priest in 1967. As a Jesuit scholastic, he was sent to Japan, where he taught theology, served as rector of scholastics and worked with immigrants in Tokyo.
He served as Jesuit superior general from 2008 to 2016.
His funeral Mass was celebrated May 23 at St. Ignatius Church in Tokyo. A memorial Mass will be celebrated in Rome at the Jesuit Church of the Gesu at a later date. Memorial Masses also were celebrated at the chapels of U.S. Jesuit universities.
In 2013, Nicolas met with the presidents of the U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities and board chairs at Loyola University Chicago.
Describing this gathering, Sheeran said Nicolas urged the school leaders to acknowledge their “critical responsibility for promoting the Jesuit worldview at their schools and providing a transformative focus on serving their neighbors in need.”
Shortly before he resigned from his post in 2016, Nicolas invited the U.S. Jesuit universities to take part in a Mission Priority Examen, which examines the school’s mission and sets goals for the future. Universities are submitting the first round of this endeavor to the current Jesuit superior general, Father Arturo Sosa, this year.
In his role as the Jesuits’ leader, Nicolas urged Jesuit university leaders to adhere to their mission amid modern struggles they face.
In a 2010 address to college leaders in Mexico City, he said Jesuit universities “are called to find new ways of creatively renewing this commitment to a dialogue between faith and culture that has always been a distinguishing mark of Jesuit learned ministry.”
He also said he was convinced the church asks this intellectual commitment of Jesuit schools because the world needs it.
Nicolas also challenged the university leaders to continue their ministry with “energy and creativity” and to “forge intellectual bridges between Gospel and culture, faith and reason, for the sake of the world and its great questions and problems.”
Ten years later, Sheeran said that challenge continues to drive Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States and around the world.
Two leaders at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore — Jesuit Father Thomas Roach, associate chaplain for campus ministry, and Jesuit Father Timothy Brown, assistant to the president for mission integration and associate professor of law and social responsibility — attended the 35th General Congregation of the Jesuits in 2008, where Nicolas was elected superior general.
Roach, who spent about a year and a half in Rome working with Nicolas, said the priest was “always talking about going for depth and not for superficiality,” adding in a statement that the former superior general focused on depth of prayer, reflection and study, and the universality of the Jesuits.
“He was a very friendly, approachable, affable, gentle soul,” he said.
Jesuit Father Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, said he still reflects on Nicolas’s 2010 address in Mexico City, saying it helps him to think about the ways the university engages students today. He said the priest “wasn’t negative about the internet, but he cautioned us that it can make us more susceptible to superficiality, rather than doing the in-depth work we should do.”
About the priest’s election as superior general, Brown said he could not share confidential discussions from the time, but he said he kept track of each of the rounds of voting with marks on a piece of paper that he still has.
He said he knew the priest would be considered for the leadership role because of his familiarity with Asia and the Philippines. Nicolas spent most of his life as a Jesuit in Japan and the Philippines, including serving as director of the East Asia Pastoral Institute and as president of the Conference of Provincials of East Asia and Oceania. After his eight years as superior general, he returned to Asia.
“A superior general really has to be able to connect the first world with the third world countries. Father Nicolas was a great bridge,” said Brown, who also added that the superior general was a great linguist and was incredibly kind.
“I just loved being with him,” he said.
One of the documents developed during the 35th General Congregation was called: “A Fire that Kindles Other Fires: Rediscovering Our Charism” with the subtitle: “Many Sparks, One Fire: Many Stories, One History.” Brown said this document exemplifies Nicholas because he “had that spark.”
“He had that sense of reigniting our sense of mission, our sense of solidarity with those most in need, and that importance of being more in-depth. He was the right man at the right time.”