Former head of world's Jesuits, who lived in PH, dies at 84
MANILA, Philippines – He used to head the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church: the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, whose 16,000 members include the man who would later become Pope Francis.
But being the Jesuit superior general, as this position is called, never bloated the ego of Father Adolfo Nicolás, who always preferred to be called Father Nico.
Toward the end of his life, after having resigned as Jesuit general, Nicolás returned to the country he loved – the Philippines – and there, continued to lead by example. Once, at the Jesuit infirmary in the Ateneo de Manila University, the ailing former general told his Filipino physician, Father Tex Paurom: "You decide; I obey."
Nicolás died in Tokyo on Wednesday, May 20, at the age of 84.
Nicolás is remembered fondly by Jesuits in the Philippines, where he lived in at least 3 periods of his 67 years as a Jesuit.
Born in Palencia, Spain, in 1936, the Jesuit priest was first sent to the Philippines in 1978 as director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute based in Ateneo. He held this position for 6 years.
He was later assigned to Japan and became head of the Japanese Jesuits. After this assignment, he returned to Manila in 2004 as president of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania.
Once Bergoglio's superior
Four years later, he was elected the 33rd superior general of the Jesuits – successor of the great Saint Ignatius of Loyola – in 2008. Among the people under his care was the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who in 2013 would become Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.
Nicolás resigned in October 2016 due to health reasons – a significant move because Jesuit generals, like the Pope, are elected for life. His resignation came 3 years after Benedict XVI also stepped down from his post, a move never seen in centuries.
After his resignation, Nicolás stayed at the Arrupe International Residence and the East Asian Pastoral Institute based in Ateneo de Manila for more than a year. He returned to Japan in August 2018.
"He was not known to promote himself. He was not self-referential. He detested clericalism in whatever form. He corrected people who referred to him as 'Superior General Emeritus.' He wanted to be known as he was without titles," said Filipino Jesuit priest Father Antonio Moreno, president of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific.
In fact, he told Jesuits when he celebrated in the Philippines his golden jubilee as a priest in March 2017, "I am asking you to allow me to be the 'Nico' of old times, not the former Father General or Emeritus."
His successor as superior general, Father Arturo Sosa, said of Nicolás: "A wise, humble, and free man; totally and generously given to service; moved by those who suffer in the world, but at the same time overflowing with hope drawn from his faith in the Risen Lord; an excellent friend, who loved to laugh and to make others laugh; a man of the Gospel."
The general and his laundry
Bishop Pablo Virgilio "Ambo" David of Caloocan, Philippines, on Wednesday also reminisced about their "Father Nico."
David, 61, said he used to bump into Nicolás, then already a high-ranking Jesuit, when he was a seminarian studying at the Jesuit-run San Jose Seminary based in Ateneo.
David said he was amazed that Nicolás, 4 decades later, still remembered his name when they met again at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. David was then attending a meeting along with his fellow bishop and San Jose alumnus, Luis Antonio Tagle.
"Welcome, Bishop," said Nicolás, who was holding a laundry basket, upon seeing David in the Jesuit house.
"He put down his laundry basket on the floor when I greeted him and said, 'Good morning, Father General!' He came forward and shook my hand firmly. I said, 'Hope I can still call you Father Nico?' He smiled and said naughtily, 'Only if I can still call you Ambo.' And we both laughed," David recalled.
David said Nicolás then volunteered to join him for coffee – after loading his laundry in the washing machine.
"In my head," David said, "I found myself saying as I watched him walk briskly to the laundry room, 'Where on earth would you find the Superior General of one of the most influential religious congregations in the world, the so-called 'Black Pope,' doing his own laundry?" – Rappler.com