Loyola celebrates the life of Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., former superior general of the Society of Jesus
| By Rita Buettner
Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., who served as the 30th superior general of the Society of Jesus from 2008-2016, died at age 84 in Tokyo, Japan, on May 20, 2020. He will be remembered for his passion for service, his pastoral warmth, and the way in which he called his brother Jesuits to greater depth.
Rev. Thomas Roach, S.J., associate chaplain in Campus Ministry at Loyola, and Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., assistant to the president for mission integration and associate professor of law and social responsibility, both attended the 35th General Congregation of the Jesuits in 2008, where Fr. Nicolás was elected as superior general.
“Fr. Nicolás was always talking about going for depth and not for superficiality,” said Fr. Roach, who spent about a year and a half in Rome working with Fr. Nicolás. “He focused on depth of prayer, depth of reflection, depth of study, and the universality of the Society which he practiced.”
“He was a very friendly, approachable, affable, gentle soul,” said Fr. Roach, who recalled frequently celebrating Mass with Fr. Nicolás during the year and a half he worked with him in Rome.
Born in Spain on April 29, 1936, Fr. Nicolás entered the Society of Jesus in 1953 and was ordained a priest in 1967. As a Jesuit scholastic, he was sent to Japan, where he taught theology, served as rector of scholastics and provincial, and dedicated himself to working with immigrants in Tokyo.
Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola, recalls seeing Fr. Nicolás at a meeting of the presidents of Jesuit colleges and universities from around the world in 2010 in Mexico City, where the superior general addressed the group.
“I found his address on superficiality in the intellectual life of a university to be really challenging,” said Fr. Linnane. “It has been helpful to me to think of the ways in which we engage our students today. I still reflect on his message years later. He wasn’t negative about the Internet, but he cautioned us that it can make us more susceptible to superficiality, rather than doing the in-depth work we should do.”
During the 2008 meeting that elected Fr. Nicolás, Fr. Brown recalls sitting next to Rev. Ron Anton, S.J., former dean of the Sellinger School of Business. Fr. Brown is not able to share the confidential discussions that happened at that time, but he said he kept track of each of the rounds of voting with marks on a piece of paper he still has.
“We knew Fr. Nicolás was somebody people were going to consider,” Fr. Brown said. “He had the familiarity with Asia and the familiarity with the Philippines. A superior general really has to be able to connect the first world with the third world countries. Fr. Nicolás was a great bridge. And he was a great linguist. He was incredibly kind, and I just loved being with him.”
One of the documents that the 35th General Congregation developed was called, “A Fire that Kindles Other Fires: Rediscovering Our Charism” and subtitled “Many Sparks, One Fire: Many Stories, One History”—words that bring Fr. Nicolás to mind for Fr. Brown.
“Fr. Nicolás had that spark,” Fr. Brown said. “He had that sense of reigniting our sense of mission, our sense of solidarity with those most in need, and that importance of being more in depth. He was the right man at the right time.”
Fr. Nicolás spent most of his life as a Jesuit in Japan and the Philippines, including serving as director of the East Asia Pastoral Institute and as president of the Conference of Provincials of East Asia and Oceania. After eight years as superior general, he resigned and returned to Asia, where he was highly regarded and immersed in the cultures he encountered.
It was Fr. Nicolás who invited all Jesuit colleges and universities to participate in the Mission Priority Examen, an introspective planning initiative that Loyola completed in 2019.
The funeral for Fr. Nicolás will be held on May 23, 2020, at 5 p.m. at St. Ignatius Church in Tokyo. The celebration will be broadcast live, in English, on the Internet. A memorial Mass will be celebrated in Rome in the Church of the Gesù at a date to be determined.
The Jesuit Community at Loyola remembered Fr. Nicolás in the evening Mass at Ignatius House, the Jesuit residence, on May 20. The 5 p.m. Sunday Mass in Loyola’s Alumni Memorial Chapel will be offered for Fr. Nicolás.