DAVID SINGLETON, STAFF WRITER / Published: August 24, 2016
When Jesuits from around the world convene in Rome in October to elect a new leader, the rector of the Scranton Jesuit community will be among them.
The Rev. Herbert B. Keller, S.J., said Tuesday he is honored and excited to be one of approximately 215 delegates to the order’s 36th General Congregation, which will choose a successor to retiring Father Adolfo Nicolas, S.J., current superior general of the Society of Jesus.
The next superior general will be just the 31st to lead the society in the 476 years since its founding.
“When you look at the history of this, there have only been 35 congregations throughout the almost 500 years the Society of Jesus has been in existence,” said Father Keller, 65, immediate past president of Scranton Preparatory School. “So to be part of that, to be part of selecting a new father general, is pretty humbling.”
The Rev. Keller and the Rev. David Collins, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., were elected during secret balloting by the 284 Jesuits within the Maryland Province to represent them at the congregation after the Rev. Nicolas announced his intention to resign in late 2014. The province extends through nine states from Pennsylvania to Georgia.
They will be among 33 Jesuits from North America in attendance when the congregation opens Oct. 2 at the Jesuit Curia, the society’s world headquarters in Rome, just steps from the Vatican.
The Rev. Keller said the election of a Jesuit superior general is “unlike any electoral process that we would think of here in our country.”
“There are no nominated candidates. There is no campaigning, no lobbying. No one can aspire to the position, nor can one try to convince others to vote for someone else,” he said.
Instead, at the outset of the election phase, delegates spend four days engaged in what goes by the Latin word “murmuratio,” or murmuring. As the name implies, a “kind of quiet talking takes place,” with delegates interacting one-on-one to consider their relative strengths and to ask about others who may have the qualities to be superior general, the Rev. Keller said.
After a couple of days of conversation, a few names usually start to emerge, “and then you have an opportunity to speak with those people, to ask them your own questions,” he said.
Perhaps surprisingly, most superiors general in modern times have been elected on the first or second ballots, he said.
“It is a unique process and one that when you look at it you don’t understand how that would work, but you have to believe that God is part of the process,” the Rev. Keller said.
Once the new superior general is in place, the congregation will shift to its second phase, known as ad negotium, during which the delegates will focus on matters of mission, governance and the state of the society. All told, the congregation is expected to last six to eight weeks.
The Rev. Keller said this general congregation, while a rare occurrence in its own right, will be historic in another respect: It is the first congregation to be convened under a Jesuit pope. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis served as a delegate to two previous congregations.
It is customary for the pope to address the congregation — another reason the Rev. Keller is looking forward to the experience.
“In talking to Jesuits who have gone before to these congregations, they all refer to it as perhaps the highlight of their Jesuit lives, just being there,” he said.
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