A Province Assembly will be held in early January and will be followed immediately by a Province Congregation. Through these events, the Irish Province will prepare for the General Congregation in 2008.
In June of last year, John Dardis SJ, Irish Provincial, invited as wide a consultation as possible to take place in the Province in preparation for the Province Congregation and for the General Congregation. He was initiating a time of reflection on the Mission of the Society and of discerning the challenges to which we are trying to respond, both in Ireland and throughout the world.
Discussions have now taken place around Ireland within Communities and Apostolates in preparation for the Province Assembly, which will be held on 2nd of January.
Apart from the necessary change of season – away from our traditional summer function to accommodate the consultative process – it will be a Province Assembly with a difference.
All of the Boards of Management and Apostolates have been asked to nominate representatives, either Jesuit or lay, to attend the Province Assembly on 2 January. All other Jesuits are welcome to attend as well. The outcomes of the discussions and consultation mentioned above form the agenda. The deliberations of this Assembly will then be continued in the Province Congregation, which will be attended by some of the Jesuits at the Assembly.
The Congregation, beginning immediately after the Province Assembly, starts on Wednesday, 3 January, 2007 and is a meeting of almost fifty Jesuits who have been elected by their peers.
Similar meetings are being held in provinces around the world, involving Jesuits from over 120 countries. The Province Congregations have to be held before March 2007 to allow the preparatory group to arrange the 2008 meeting in Rome.
The Province Congregation taking place here in January will consider ‘postulata’ – motions to the AGM – which have been collated from numerous groups and individuals as well as from the Province Assembly. The outcome of their considerations will then be sent to the Thirty-fifth General Congregation (‘GC 35’), in Rome in 2008. The Provincial Congregation also has the task of electing a Jesuit who will accompany the Provincial as Ireland’s delegates to GC35.
A General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, the highest authoritative body of the Society, is called only “for reason of great importance” (St Ignatius). In fact in the 466-year history of the Society, since its founding in 1540, there have been only 34 such Congregations, the first being in 1558.
The General Congregation meets either to elect a General and/or to attend to matters of great moment which go beyond the capacity of the Society’s ordinary government to address. The 35th GC will meet in 2008 in the context of the expressed desire of Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, General since 1983 and now 78 years of age, to step down. This decision has obtained the consent of Pope Benedict XVI.
In his letter calling the General Congregation in early 2008, Fr Kolvenbach expressed the hope that preparations for the event would “be guided only by a desire to serve the Lord our God”.
The first General Congregation was in 1558, when twenty Jesuits attended. GC27 was held in 1923 and was the first Congregation at which there were over 100 participants. The highest number taking part was in 1974 when 236 of 28,500 Jesuits were present. GC 34 in 1995 saw 223 of 22,869. See Table below.
Delegates come to Rome for the General Congregation briefed by their own local Provincial Congregations and Assemblies. Increasingly in recent years this has meant taking on board the advice and concerns of lay and other non-Jesuit colleagues. This consultation at Province Congregation and Assembly level is used by Rome in its preparation for the General Congregation and is a significant influence on the members of the General Congregation.