Irish Jesuit Bill Toner SJ was one of the group of European Jesuit treasurers who meet in Krakow, Poland in March 2019. Their main focus of concern was the care of their elderly fellow Jesuits.
The Jesuits who attended from many Provinces across Europe shared with one another how they were doing the best to take care of Jesuits who had become old and/or infirm. According to Bill, they were as holistic as possible in their approach, looking at their quality of life, pensions, living environment and religious ambiance. He noted that, whilst the Jesuit do have funds for this type of welfare and healthcare, “these resources are spread unevenly, and some of the Eastern European Provinces have had no opportunity to build up funds under decades of communist rule.”
Not surprisingly then, there is considerable variation in what is available for older Jesuits in different countries. Countries like Spain have a large number of infirmaries, with almost half of their 950 strong Jesuits being over the age of 80. That’s in stark contrast to a country like Lithuania where they only reserve a few rooms for their older Jesuits, of whom only five out of 34 in their eighties.
Looking at it positively, Bill Toner noted that the age profile in the Eastern European Provinces is more youthful than in Western Europe, “so there is no immediate crisis, and it is hoped that the Eastern Provinces will be able to build up sufficient funds for the future.”
Bill also points out that most of the discussion amongst those gathered was less about funds and more about the appropriate care for elderly and infirm Jesuit, including those with memory loss. “There was a lot of focus on the best models for providing care which while affordable, also respected the sensitivities of the Jesuits concerned, for instance, where it was necessary to share care facilities with others, whether religious or lay.”
To this end, inputs were given by outside experts including Br. Luckas Dmowski, Provincial of the Saint John of God Brothers, together with Dr. Alfonso Cruz, from Spain and Fr. Clement Nguyen SJ, from France, the latter pair being specialists in health care. They participated in a panel discussion on looking after the elderly, and they offered important criteria for doing so. These included adequated spatial design, proper management, appropriate residence size, as well as the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of elder welfare.
The Province treasurers all expressed the desire to continue with an actual analysis that would best help each of their particular areas, according to Bill. At the closing Mass the President of the Conference of Treasurers, Fr Franck Janin, stressed the importance of solidarity between the Provinces in the light of the new Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Father General, Arturo Sosa SJ.
As well as the work, the treasurers were also treated to a trip to the Wieliczka salt mines, before returning home to their respective communities across Europe.