Pedro Arrupe

Pedro Arrupe

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (November 14, 1907 – February 5, 1991) (Pedro de Arrupe y Gondra) was the 28th Superior General (1965–83) of the Society of Jesus. He was born in Bilbao, Spain.

Education and training

Pedro Arrupe attended school at the Santiago Apostolic High School in Bilbao. Later he moved to Madrid to attend medical school at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. There he met Severo Ochoa, who later won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. One of his teachers was Juan Negrín, a pioneer in physiology, who would later become Prime Minister of the Spanish Republic during the Civil War (1936–1939). After some years of medical training, Pedro Arrupe joined the Jesuits in 1927 but was unable to pursue his studies for the Ministerial Priesthood in Spain due to the Order having been expelled by the Republican government of 1932. Accordingly, the young Arrupe did his studies in the Netherlands and Belgium before being ordained in 1936. Following his ordination to the Presbyterate, Fr. Arrupe was sent to the United States of America where he completed a doctorate in Medical Ethics.

Japan – Hiroshima

After his doctorate, Fr. Arrupe was sent to work as a missionary in Japan. He was there when the attack on Pearl Harbour occurred in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 – it was December 8 in Japan. Fr. Arrupe was celebrating the Eucharist for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when he was arrested and imprisoned for a time, being suspected of espionage. On Christmas Eve, Fr. Arrupe heard people gathering outside his cell door and presumed that the time for him to be executed had arrived. However, to his utter surprise, he discovered that some fellow Christians, ignoring all danger, had come to sing him Christmas carols. Upon this realisation, Arrupe recalled that he burst into tears. His attitude of profound prayer and his lack of offensive behaviour gained him the respect of his jailors and judges, and he was set free within a month.

Fr. Arrupe was appointed Jesuit superior and novice master in Japan in 1942 and was living in suburban Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell in August 1945. He was one of 8 Jesuits who were physically located within the blast zone of the bomb when it occurred, and all 8 survived the destruction. Fr. Arrupe described that event as “a permanent experience outside of history, engraved on my memory.” Father Arrupe used his medical skills to help those who were wounded or dying. The Jesuit novitiate was converted into a makeshift hospital where between 150-200 people received care. Arrupe recalled “The chapel, half destroyed, was overflowing with the wounded, who were lying on the floor very near to one another, suffering terribly, twisted with pain.” In 1958, Fr. Arrupe was appointed the first Jesuit provincial for Japan, a position he held until being elected Father General in 1965.

Prior to being elected Father General, Arrupe made a visit to Latin America and, on one occasion, was celebrating the Eucharist in a suburban slum. He was deeply moved at the devotion and respect the people had for Christ in the midst of their abject poverty. After the service, a man invited Fr. Arrupe to his hotel, where he told him that he was so grateful for his visit and wanted to share the only gift he had, that of watching the setting sun together. Fr. Arrupe reflected, ‘He gave me his hand. As I was leaving, I thought: “I have met very few hearts that are so kind.”’

Father General

At the 31st General Congregation (GC 31) of the Society of Jesus in 1965, Arrupe was elected the Order’s 28th superior general. He served in that post until 1983. Pedro Arrupe was only the second Basque to be Father General, the first being the founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Fr. Vinnie O’Keefe, a friend and advisor to Arrupe, says Arrupe was ‘a second Ignatius of Loyola, a re-founder of the Society in the light of Vatican II.’ The defining moment of Fr. Arrupe’s leadership of the Jesuits was probably the 32nd General Congregation (GC 32), which convened in 1975.

Fr. Arrupe’s dream of working for the poor was crystallised in the document, Our Mission Today: the Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice (GC 32, Decree 4). Part of the 4th Decree states: “Our faith in Jesus Christ and our mission to proclaim the Gospel demand of us a commitment to promote justice and enter into solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless.” Thus, the decree basically defined all the work of the Jesuits as having an essential focus on the promotion of social justice as well as the Catholic faith.

Fr. Arrupe was keenly aware that, in the political climate of the 1970s, the Jesuits’ commitment to working for social justice would bring great hardship and suffering, particularly in those Latin American countries which were not only fascist, but supported by the United States as a means of holding back the perceived threat of Communism. For the Jesuits to tie their work so explicitly to the promotion of justice was a very bold move, and some felt it overly politicised the Society. The decree was so hotly debated that it was not voted on until the last day of the Congregation, March 7, 1975, when it was accepted, after a period of intense discussion, by an overwhelming majority of delegates.

Later life, illness and stroke

On August 7, 1981, after a long and tiring trip throughout the Far East, Fr. Arrupe suffered a stroke just after his airplane landed at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. He was paralysed on his right side and was able to speak only a few words. This disability gradually deteriorated until he was completely mute. From that time on he lived in the infirmary at the Jesuit Motherhouse. He was the first Jesuit Superior-General to resign instead of remaining in office until his death.

Pope John Paul II appointed Fr. Paolo Dezza as his personal delegate and interim Father General of the Society, passing over Fr. Arrupe’s own choice of vicar general. There was a wave of resentment in the Society as this was seen as unwarranted papal interference in Jesuit affairs. For his part, Fr. Arrupe never expressed any disagreement or resentment. In 1983, Fr. Dezza called the 33rd General Congregation to deal with the resignation of Arrupe and the election of a successor.

Fr. Arrupe’s resignation was accepted on September 3, 1983 during the Congregation, and it proceeded to elect Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach as Father General. During the opening Session of the Congregation Fr. Arrupe was wheeled into the hall and a prayer which he had written was read out.

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.

During his 10 long and silent years in the infirmary, praying for the Society, Fr. Arrupe received many and frequent well-wishers among whom Pope John Paul II was the most distinguished.

Death and burial

Fr. Pedro Arrupe of the Society of Jesus, died on February 5, 1991 in his 84th year. His funeral was held in the Church of the Gesu, Rome and was attended by crowds that filled the piazza outside the church. Also in attendance were 10 cardinals, 20 bishops, Giulio Andreotti the Prime Minister of Italy as well as other religious and civil dignitaries. His body, first interred in the Jesuit Mausoleum at Campo Verano, was brought back into the Church of the Gesu where it lies in a side chapel.


Numerous buildings, schools and Jesuit communities have been named after Pedro Arrupe. Among them include:

  •  A residence hall at the University of San Francisco
  • A building in Fairfield College Preparatory School, Connecticut
  • The main auditorium at the ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara, Mexico
  • Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver, Colorado
  • The middle school of Boston College High School, was named the “Arrupe Division” in 2007
  • A school in the Philippines is named Pedro Arrupe Academy and finally,
  • our very own Arrupe College (Now Arrupe Jesuit University), Jesuit School of Philosophy and Humanities.
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