By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University
Rev. Claudio Burgaleta, S.J. recently left his position as a professor at Fordham University to become rector of the Jesuit community at Saint Peter’s University. His arrival at the University coincided with General Congregation 36 (GC36) to elect the new Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J.
Timing was not the only coincidence shared by Fr. Sosa and Fr. Burgaleta. As the first non-European to assume the role of Superior General, Fr. Sosa’s Latin-American background gives him a unique perspective that differs from his predecessors. This perspective is one that is deeply understood by Fr. Burgaleta. Born in Cuba, Fr. Burgaleta has traveled widely throughout Latin America ministering to Latinos in a variety of capacities and locations, and has even worked with some of Fr. Sosa’s collaborators.
It is expected that as Superior General, Fr. Sosa will focus on social activism and the promotion of faith and justice. From Fr. Burgaleta’s experience and perspective at Saint Peter’s, these ideals are becoming increasingly important to members of the University community. In a recent interview, Fr. Burgaleta provided an in-depth look at the commonalities he shares with Fr. Sosa, and discussed possibilities for Jesuits under Fr. Sosa’s leadership after GC36.
Were you aware of Fr. Sosa prior to his election? How is he different from previous Superior Generals?
Fr. Sosa’s name was one that was discussed before he was selected. The most notable or obvious way that Fr. Sosa stands out from former Superior Generals is his heritage as a Venezuelan, given the fact that all former Superior Generals were of European descent. Another distinguishing characteristic of Fr. Sosa is his diverse background. While many of the previous Generals came out of the educational sector, Fr. Sosa bridges the gap between the education and the social sector. He also knows Rome well [having] previously served as the Delegate for Interprovincial Roman Houses of the Society of Jesus in Rome and on the cabinet of [former Superior General], Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J.
How is the election of Fr. Sosa significant to a Jesuit institution like Saint Peter’s?
The Saint Peter’s community is richly diverse in culture, religion, political affiliations and more. We have a number of students who are immigrants or first-generation college students. The [recent] U.S. presidential election sparked debate and discussion on our campus and some of our students are feeling vulnerable or threatened by the outcome. Working in a polarized country such as Venezuela, Fr. Sosa is exceptionally attuned to the challenges and fears that individuals like our students face.
Social justice is also of great importance to many members of the Saint Peter’s community and Fr. Sosa shares that focus. He represents the thrust of Latin American Jesuits who are working for and with the poor.
What are some of the significant decrees coming out of GC36?
One of the most significant things that the Congregation stressed was better collaboration and networking among Jesuit institutions. This is becoming increasingly critical for institutions such as Saint Peter’s as the number of Jesuits continues to decline in the United States. Fr. Sosa has also been tasked with bringing the Ignatian charism up-to-date in order to be implemented into today’s practice.
How will your position at Saint Peter’s influence the Jesuit mission and ministry at the University?
In my role at Saint Peter’s I am tasked with looking after the spiritual well-being of the Jesuits at the University as well as those in the local community. I also serve as a representative of the Society of Jesus to the Jesuits and for the communities that they serve. In addition, I am a member of the Saint Peter’s University Board of Trustees and am part of the Ignatian Leadership Team, which is responsible for maintaining the Jesuit tradition of the University. With this said, I closely follow the decrees and focus of the Society of Jesus in Rome as well as in our Province to guide the initiatives and plans for the University.
What are some of the challenges that Jesuit institutions face in today’s world?
One challenge that I mentioned earlier is the declining number of Jesuits, which enhances the need for collaboration and networking among institutions. Another challenge is separating the Jesuit mission from Catholic identity. While they are both very distinct, they cannot exist separately from each other. Another significant challenge is an economic one…how can we accomplish a lot without a lot of financial resources? The most inspirational thing I have experienced at Saint Peter’s is how the University is accomplishing a lot through creativity [despite] extensive resources. There is certainly a spirit of welcome and collaboration at the University. I look forward to playing a role in the Ignatian spirituality of Saint Peter’s as I move forward in my role.