From humble beginning to the top of the Jesuit order in Rome
The Society of Jesus, aka the Jesuits, take a fourth: obedience to the Pope.
And no one felt it more personally than the late Jesuit Fr. Vincent O’Keefe, a Jersey City native, who died on July 22, at the age of 92.
O’Keefe became the Vicar General of the entire order in 1981 and was by most accounts slated to become the 29th Superior General and the first U.S. citizen to reach that pinnacle.
But the late Pope John Paul II, evidently on bad advice, suspended the normal governance of the order and imposed his own delegate to run it, effectively ending O’Keefe’s tenure in Rome. At the time, it was not known if the Pope would, for the second time in history, suppress the Jesuits.
Instead of leading a rebellion, O’Keefe became a source of reassuring strength to Jesuits all over.
“Many Jesuits credit Vinnie’s faithful response to the papal intervention as a calming influence in the Society of Jesus,” said Fr. James Martin, S.J., prolific author and culture editor of AMERICA, the Jesuit magazine in Manhattan. O’Keefe eventually became superior of the magazine’s community until 2007 when he moved to the Jesuit retirement home on the Fordham campus in the Bronx, where he served as its 27th President from 1963 to 1965. He made Fordham a co-ed school.
In 1965 when O’Keefe was appointed to positions in Rome, the Jesuits numbered about 36,000 worldwide, their highest numbers, and the U.S. membership was about 20 percent of that total, the largest of any country in the world.
The 20th century was considered the American era for the Jesuits. India today has the most Jesuits and O’Keefe was the right person to become the 2nd in charge to the venerable Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the general superior from 1965 to 1983.
Arrupe is sometimes considered the second founder of the Jesuits after Ignatius Loyola. Arrupe reoriented the vast ministries of the Jesuits toward working for justice and O’Keefe was his trusted collaborator. There were many defections and problems with the Vatican curia who thought some Jesuits were out of control.
Trenton native Fr. Raymond Schroth, S.J., the literary editor of AMERICA and former professor at St. Peter’s College, wrote a book on the late Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., a Massachusetts congressman for ten years until Pope John Paul forced him to resign.
“He (O’Keefe) was a big help to me in writing the book,” said Schroth. O’Keefe was working behind the scenes in Rome to negotiate this delicate matter. [More]