Obituary: Jesuit Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach

Father Kolvenbach
Father Kolvenbach

Jesuit Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, whose service as superior general of the Society of Jesus marked a return to normal governance after a period of tension with the Vatican, died in Beirut Nov. 26, four days before his 88th birthday.

After the Jesuit general congregation accepted his resignation as superior in 2008, he returned to Lebanon and served as an assistant librarian at the Jesuit-run St. Joseph University in Beirut.

When Father Kolvenbach was chosen as superior general in 1983, his election marked the end of a two-year period in which a papal delegate, Jesuit Father Paolo Dezza, led the society.

St. John Paul II had bypassed the Jesuits’ normal governing structure when he named Father Dezza interim head of the society after Father Pedro Arrupe, then-superior general of the Jesuits, suffered a stroke. The pope’s action troubled many Jesuits, who saw it as a lack of papal trust in the order and its members’ ability to govern themselves.

An expert in linguistics, Father Kolvenbach taught in The Hague, Paris and Beirut, before being named rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, the position he held when he was elected superior of the order.


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