Former Jesuit superior general, Father Adolfo Nicolás, dies in Tokyo

The 30th superior general of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, died in Tokyo, Japan, on May 20. He was 84.

Father Adolfo Nicolás, a Spanish Jesuit, led the world’s largest men’s religious order, for eight years from 2008 to 2016.

The priest, who had been ill for some time, met with Pope Francis, also a Jesuit, on Nov. 26, 2019, during the pope’s visit to Japan.

“With sorrow, but at the same time full of gratitude, I wish to inform you that today … the Lord called to Himself Father Adolfo Nicolás, our former superior general,” read a message from Father Arturo Sosa, the current superior general of the congregation.

Father Nicolás was elected superior general of the Jesuits in 2008, succeeding Father Peters Hans Kolvenbach, in 2008.

His time as head of the congregation has been described by Father Sosa as marked by “his sense of humor, his courage, (and) his humility.”

He was “a person with a spirit of joyful service to others, smiling in the middle of a job done under pressure,” said the current superior general.

“As superior general, he brought to the Society his deep missionary vocation that helped us to see the universality of the mission from the perspective and the passion of presenting the Good News in all corners of the world,” he added.

In a 2008 interview, Father Nicolás said there is no shortcut for leadership.

“There is always a long way; real change and real insights come through a long process. The first step in all of them is contact — contact with persons, contact with situations,” he said.

Father Sosa said that Father Nicolás “never tired of reminding us of the depth of spiritual life and intellectual depth as characteristics of the vocation of the Society.”

“He opted for universal apostolic preferences and promoted the restructuring of the Society in order to adapt to the new realities of the world and our apostolic body,” said Father Sosa.

China and the African continent were always among the priorities of the former head of the Jesuits.

Father Nicolás served the Society of Jesus in a variety of ministries, including as an academic who taught theology in Japan and as director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute at the Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines.

He was born in Palencia, northern Spain, on April 29, 1936.

After entering the Jesuits in 1953, he volunteered for the foreign missions and was sent to Japan. He was ordained to the priesthood in Tokyo in 1967.

After further studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome from 1968 to 1971, he returned to Japan, where he served as a professor of systematic theology at Sophia University.

From 1978 to 1984, he was director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute at the Ateneo de Manila. He later served as seminary rector in Tokyo.

In 1993, Father Nicolás became provincial of the Jesuit Province of Japan. At the end of his six-year term, he devoted four years to serving poor immigrants in Tokyo.

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