Beloved Don Pedro “Man For Others” – Article #7: PERSON-ORIENTED LEADERSHIP

This year, 2023, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s famous exhortation “Men and Women for Others” we are delighted to share article #7 of the series Beloved Don Pedro “Man For Others”.

This series of articles written by Fr. Hedwig Lewis SJ, a great Jesuit writer of Gujarat Province in India, covers anecdotes from Fr. Arrupe’s life, his writings, lived experiences, and spiritual thoughts.

All educators in our global community are invited to learn and reflect on who Fr. Pedro Arrupe was and his legacy to Jesuit education!

You are all welcome to share your reflections and comments in the comment section located at the bottom of each article.

We wish you an enjoyable journey getting to know Fr. Pedro Arrupe and the roots of his famous exhortation “Men and Women for Others”.



After the death of Fr General J.B. Janssens in October 1964, the 31st General Congregation was convoked. It consisted of two periods, the first from 7 May to 15 July 1965 and the second from 8 September to 17 November 1966. Fr Pedro Arrupe was elected General on 22 May 1965 during the first session. He was the first Basque to occupy this position since the founder of the Jesuits.

At his opening address to the members of the Congregation after his election, Fr Arrupe began with a quote from the prophet Jeremiah:
“Ah! Lord God, I do not know how to speak…”

Since Fr Arrupe was fluent in seven languages, his application of Jeremiah’s phrase to himself was greatly and unconsciously ironic. It evoked some good-humoured laughter both when it was made and when, in years to come, it was recalled.

When questioned about it by Fr Dietsch during his ‘autobiographical conversations’ (1981), Fr Arrupe explained the context of his remark:

“I had no qualification, and I found myself facing the Society, its great scholars, its great doctors, its great spiritual masters. Here was a little man who had parachuted in: What could he do? It was a moment of great confusion. My only assurance was, continuing to quote from Jeremiah: ‘Be not afraid… for I am with you’. Without the Lord we can do nothing.”

Arrupe’s style of government was certainly different from that of his predecessors. This was partly due to changed circumstances. And partly because of his ‘personal approach’ to management: he believed that decision should be preceded by dialogue and followed through by inspiration as much as by mandate.

In that, Fr Arrupe followed closely the dictates of St Ignatius, who emphasized the need for members of the Society to communicate with each other and share their experiences. Fr Arrupe achieved this largely through the secretariats. These were not an invention of Arrupe but a directive from the Congregation, and particularly relevant in the newly dawned post-conciliar age. Thus he stuck a balance between centralization and initiative.

As General, Fr Arrupe always made time for the constant stream of visitors, especially Jesuit visitors, from all over the world. All, superiors, university presidents and secondary school principals, men from the rank and file, missionaries on home leave, scholastics in studies, were made to feel welcome and understood.

“Many people come to Rome,” remarked Fr Arrupe in an interview, “I have met many of them, if only  at my table for a meal, and that enables me to know them, to listen directly to the information they bring, and to have long conversations with them, including a few jokes.”

His personal knowledge of the Jesuits scattered throughout the world in such a variety of places and circumstances was remarkable indeed. He showed this in his weekly interviews with the Regional Assistants and especially those before and after their visits to their assigned areas. He was also an interested and active participant in the informal Friday evening meetings when the Assistants shared their experiences and impressions of the world-wide Society.

“The men, for the most part, were proud of their General, who led by example and an infectious optimism rather than by a mandate,” said Fr Parmananda Divarkar SJ, one of his close associates. “His gift for communication transcended the mere command of many languages. A story that had a long innings because Arrupe himself kept it going, was that at an international meeting of Jesuits which he addressed, everyone understood what he was saying but no one knew what language he was speaking.”

On 7 August 1981, on arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. after an exhausting visit to the Philippines, he was struck by a cerebral thrombosis, from which he did not recover. GC 33 accepted Fr Arrupe’s resignation as General on 3 September 1983 and elected Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach his successor.


In his first press conference as General at the offices of La Civilta Catolica in Rome, Fr Arrupe was asked: “How will you fight atheism?” With a smile he replied:

“We won’t be fighting anyone or anything! Our tactic is not fighting but dialogue, mutual respect, learning to listen, trying to understand the obstacles that keep people from the knowledge of God. We must treat those who disagree with us with the sane gentleness that the Japanese threat the cherry flower.”


When asked, “To how many Jesuit names can you attach to a face?” Fr Arrupe’s response was:

“Not the names of all Jesuits! But, to give an example, of the two hundred thirty-six members of the 32nd General Congregation, which assembled in 1974-1975, I personally knew – and interiorly, if one may say that – more than two hundred of them. Thus, for the Superior General, that group did not resemble a political assembly or a parliament. It was something entirely different.”


“One of Father Arrupe’s characteristics,” observed Fr Vincent O’Keefe SJ, “was an absorption in persons that contrasted sharply with his lack of interest in buildings and scenery. It is said that during a trip to Egypt he was caught up in a conversation about Jesuits and their apostolates there. As the car in which he was travelling moved along, one of his aides pointed excitedly to the pyramids. Pausing in mid-sentence, Don Pedro looked for a moment, murmured something and nodded his head in appreciation, and then plunged right back into the conversation.”


“Just after being appointed Provincial of the Near East,” said his successor Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ, in a Spanish TV broadcast in 1991, “I met Fr Arrupe in Rome. The first thing he told me was that he trusted me… It was a bond of trust that linked him with all his collaborators and characterized the government of the Society. The trusted men around him struck a community of friends in the Lord. Hence, the character of their decisions [were] totally alien to the way of proceeding of a multinational enterprise. It was, clearly the activity of an apostolic body committed to the continuation of Christ’s mission. Unattached to bureaucratic ways, Fr Arrupe wanted at any cost to maintain a person to person relationship in order to help all to find the meaning of life, and to guide them to the encounter with Christ.”


Anyone who has worked with Arrupe will remember the warmth with which he welcomed whoever came to visit him. Besides respect, he placed great trust in the Superiors he appointed. I remember an intervention of his during the 32nd General Congregation. Someone referred to Jesuits who were allegedly ruining the spirit of the Society by ignoring some tradition or introducing secular values and ways; according to the speaker, they were to be removed from the body of the Society just as cancer cells are eliminated. “But they are not just cells,” Arrupe replied, “they are persons and should be treated as such.” Abp G. Casimir, SJ


Arrupe had a real passionate appreciation and respect for each human being as a person and for all human beings. He inherited it from St Ignatius Loyola and it was nurtured in the experience of the Spiritual Exercises. The obsession of Ignatius, if it could be called so, was to “help souls”. Today we would perhaps translate it as “helping people to be fully persons”. This ideal runs through the words and actions of Arrupe as their life blood. To serve, to liberate, to save… these words, combined with numerous different harmonies, are his basic, enduring melody, as he contemplates the mystery of the Incarnation….

Arrupe possessed the gift of establishing easy and deep personal relationships with all. It was not only the capacity to be accessible to anyone, but also to take the initiative to enter into encounter with all.  Moreover, in his presence, each one felt important. He was one of those men gifted with the divine grace of believing and trusting in others even to the extent of consciously letting himself be deceived by him…

Arrupe was an open man. His doors were always open to all. He had no keys. Nay, more, he would actually come out of his room to invite others to come in. He was more the disciple than the master’ more the pupil than the chair, more the “little one” if the Gospel than the “wise and the prudent.”

This passion of his for people and for communion with persons did not curtail his freedom to hold fast openly and publicly in many areas, to what he believed to be God’s will. Obviously, conflict was inevitable. But neither his strong convictions nor the subsequent conflicts ever led to the closing of his heart to anyone. Ultimately it was the attitude of personal dialogue which enabled him to unite the dispersed members of the Society, even to reconcile what was seemingly contradictory. Ignacio Iglesias SJ

“Pedro Arrupe Treasury: Notes, Quotes, Anecdotes”, by Hedwig Lewis SJ. [232 pages, 2007, Rs 105], Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand 388001.