The Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Jesuit Curia in Rome


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Remembering our History

Remembering our History



he history of the Social Justice Secretariat spans nearly 40 long and turbulent years in the history of the Society of Jesus (see box below). Fr. Arrupe was elected General of the Society in 1965, four years before establishing the Jesuit Secretariat for Socio-Economic Development (JESEDES). Like the Jesuit Refugee Service, JESEDES was another example of Arrupe’s vision and capacity to strengthen the international apostolic dimension of the Society.



Promotio Iustitiae: Historical Landmarks


1969-1975      Fr. Francisco Ivern (Central Brazil) established JESEDES (Jesuit Secretariat for Socio-Economic Development).

1975-1984     Fr. Michael Campbell-Johnston (Britain), who turned the JESEDES bulletin into Promotio Iustitiae, lived through GC32 (December 1974-March 1975). He published the first 30 issues of Promotio in a span of nine years; the 29th issue of March 1983 salutes Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach as the new General of the Society elected by GC33.

1985-1991     Fr. Henry Volken (Goa-Pune) edited the 31st issue of Promotio (February 1985) and kept going till the 48th issue (October 1991) –
that is, 18 issues in six years. He lived through the first eight years
of Fr. Kolvenbach´s generalate, left the Secretariat in 1991 and died
in Geneva in the year 2000.

1992-2002     Fr. Michael Czerny (English Canada) edited Promotio from the 49th issue (March 1992) to the 76th issue (2002/1) – that is, 27 issues in ten years. He prepared the tabloids, especially the justice theme, before GC34, was actively involved in GC34, and launched the “Social Apostolate Initiative” 1995-2005.

2002...     Fr. Fernando Franco has edited Promotio from the 77th issue (2003/1) to the present 100th issue (2008/3) – that is, 23 issues so far.



The first issue of Promotio, a 7-page cyclostyled bulletin providing exchanges and communication among Jesuits working in the social apostolate, appeared in 1977. Fr. Michael Campbell-Johnston acknowledges that it was the result of a brave person’s effort to launch a new bulletin “in this day and age of saturation by printed and spoken word” (Promotio Iustitiae 1, January 1977, 2). Today we voice similar complaints about being saturated by the electronic media!

The name Promotio Iustitiae,(1) a phrase taken directly from GC32 (D. 4, n. 2), was chosen to indicate that it would be “concerned with issues relating to justice, as understood in that decree, and with concrete efforts to promote it” (ibid, 2). This first issue also communicates to its readers another change of name: the ‘office’ changes from JESEDES to ‘Social Secretariat S.J.’ The reason is clearly stated:


“We now feel that [JESEDES] no longer corresponds with what should be our primary concern. This is an indication of how fast things move in this field ... the ongoing work of the Secretariat continues and is intended to be a service agency and the test of its usefulness will be the help it provides to individuals and institutions engaged in social work of any kind” (ibid., 3)


The generalate of Fr. Arrupe extending from 1965 to 1983 provides the background for the genesis of the Secretariat and the bulletin, covering practically the entire tenure of Frs. Ivern and Campbell-Johnston.

Fr. Henry Volken inaugurates the generalate of Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. The only Secretary who is no longer with us, he is also the one who had the shortest tenure. He was succeeded by Fr. Michael Czerny who led the Secretariat through the waves of GC34, from preparation to implementation.

I am delighted that all the Secretaries accepted the invitation to write articles about the period they lived in and the challenges they faced. In the absence of Fr. Henry I have tried humbly to fill in the gap by recounting his life and quoting from some of the editorials he wrote during that period. The last years corresponding to my tenure have been left blank. Histories are better written when the actors have disappeared from the scene.



(1) With issue no. 66 the name of the journal was changed from Promotio Justitiae to Promotio Iustitiae. Both forms are used by the authors of the articles that follow. The acronym of the journal however still remains PJ.