The University of San Francisco had the distinguished privilege of welcoming the Very Reverend Adolfo Nicolás, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, last Wednesday. As Superior General, Fr. Nicolás is the highest ranking Jesuit in the world. Nicolás visited USF as part of his nine-day tour of California, which he made to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the California province of the Society of Jesus. Fr. Nicolás gave the homily at the Wednesday morning Mass, and afterward he met with four USF students and four students from St. Ignatius College Preparatory School for lunch in Loyola House, the Jesuit residence.
The topic of Fr. Nicolás’ sermon was martyrdom, primarily because Feb. 4 was the feast day of the Jesuit martyrs of the missions. Of martyrdom, he said it was not something people should aspire for, but they should find inspiration in those who are martyrs and model their lives on the principles martyrs live by. He said that Christianity is not about suffering; rather it is about living, loving and giving to others. As an example of this, he noted the USF immersion trips where students visit a different culture for a short time and volunteer to help the community.
Sophomore Laura Gengler attended the mass and was immediately impressed by Fr. Nicolás’ friendliness and good humor. She was surprised to see him open his homily with a joke and a reminder for everyone: “You always have to keep a joke in your pocket.”
Gengler was also one of the four USF students chosen to dine with Fr. Nicolás after the mass. The luncheon was to help Fr. Nicolás learn more about Jesuit education in the U.S.
USF’s University Ministry Executive Director Fr. Donal Godfrey was pleased that Fr. Nicolás chose USF as the largest stop on his tour. Though Godfrey acknowledged that many in the Catholic community regard Jesuit universities — and USF in particular — as being too liberal, or straying too far from the Church’s doctrine, he seemed unconcerned. “I’m sure [Fr. Nicolás] hears an earful about Jesuit universities in the U.S. occasionally in Rome,” Godfrey said. “But we must be a good Jesuit university if the Superior General came to visit us.”
Gengler enjoyed speaking with Fr. Nicolás in the more intimate setting where the USF students and the high school students spoke candidly about their diverse experiences with Jesuit education. Gengler told him of her experience at World Youth Day in Australia last summer, an event where Catholic youths from around the globe unite in a central location to meet and bond over their common faith.
Junior David Alfaro was also invited to dine with the esteemed guest. Alfaro, who attended Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in a low-income part of Chicago, spoke with Fr. Nicolás about how going to a Jesuit high school completely transformed his goals in life. “Growing up in Chicago I wasn’t used to the idea of going to college and getting a degree and a good job. I just wanted to graduate high school, get a job, and have fun.” Now Alfaro says he has many goals, and is just more engaged in the community at large. He wants to become a teacher when he graduates, ideally at Cristo Rey. “I just want to give back,” he said.
With the Saint Ignatius Church having a Superior General of the Society of Jesus within its walls for the first time, and four USF students having the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the highest ranking Jesuit in the world, Fr. Nicolás’ visit is one that USF will not soon forget.