February 24, 2020 — Twenty-seven hours, 6,000 miles and two lengthy layovers after leaving Rome, Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, the leader of the Society of Jesus, arrived in Los Angeles on January 31 to begin a two-week visit to the Jesuits West Province. Waiting to greet him at LAX’s baggage claim was Fr. Scott Santarosa, SJ, Provincial of Jesuits West, holding a sign that said “31” in recognition of the place the Venezuelan Jesuit holds in Jesuit history. Since 1540, Fr. General, who was elected in October of 2016, has had only 30 predecessors.
Jesuits West is a vast Province, encompassing 10 western states. While he couldn’t visit every corner of the Province, Fr. General’s packed itinerary took him to three hubs (Los Angeles, Seattle and the Bay Area) for meetings with Jesuits and lay partners representing the Province’s five universities, 12 high schools, three nativity schools, and dozens of parishes, retreat centers and social apostolates.
One of his first stops was a visit to the Novitiate of the Three Companions in Culver City, California, where Fr. Sosa asked to have a private meeting with the novices before celebrating Mass with a larger group. Fr. Steve Corder, SJ, director of novices, recalls hearing hearty laughter from the recreation room where the novices were meeting. He said, “The novices mentioned later that they were moved by Fr. General’s warmth, humility and sense of fraternity. He encouraged them in their vocations and invited them to listen continually to God’s invitation to this life.” Fr. General echoed this call when meeting with Jesuits who are preparing for priestly ordination as theology students at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University.
In each of the three regions he visited, Fr. General held separate meetings with the Jesuits of that area. Fr. Robert Ballecer, SJ, hails from the Jesuits West Province but now serves Fr. General in Rome as a content creator for the Jesuit Curia’s website and social media platforms.
“There was a sense of excitement and a spirit of brotherhood as we gathered for a large group photo in front of the university library. Fr. General gave a deep and reflective presentation to all gathered, followed by some questions from the community,” said Fr. Ballecer.
With the Jesuits marking the end of the first year of the 10-year mission that the Holy Father gave to the Society of Jesus through the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs), Fr. General used his time with the Jesuits to discuss the importance of this new roadmap for the Society of Jesus.
He called for Jesuits to see the UAPs not as a checklist of actions or ministries, but as a “call for conversion” — a way to place ourselves where we are most needed by the Church, and where we are being called by the Holy Spirit.
At meetings with directors of high schools, universities, parishes and other apostolates in each of the three regions he visited, Fr. General listened, learned and shared his own vision for the future of the worldwide Society.
In addition to visiting Jesuit communities, parishes and schools, Fr. Sosa spent an hour meeting with formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women served by Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. They talked about how Homeboy is a sanctuary, a place where they are embraced and where they feel safe so they can begin to rebuild their lives.
He interacted with students from Verbum Dei High School and Loyola High School of Los Angeles, who prepared a presentation on the ways each school is lifting up and living out the Universal Apostolic Preferences. At Seattle Nativity School, the students acted in a short series of skits for Fr. General extolling a superhero named Captain Virtue.
Though the trip had a grueling pace, including conversations and face-to-face meetings with hundreds of Jesuits, lay collaborators and people — young and old — who are part of the Jesuits West family, Fr. Sosa never slowed down and, in fact, seemed energized by each opportunity for encounter.
On one of his last days in the Province, Fr. General celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, the retirement and healthcare facility for the Province, located in Los Gatos, California. After Mass, he walked through the infirmary and it was clear to see the excitement on the faces of the men as they met their Superior General. For Fr. Sosa, though, it was a humbling experience.
Speaking not only of the Jesuits in the infirmary at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center but of all Jesuits who are infirm and devote their lives to praying for the Church and the Society of Jesus, Fr. Sosa said, “I am very conscious that we are here because they are there. We did not invent the Society, we received it from them and I feel the support of their prayers. … They are supporting us and they do that consciously and with great generosity.”