Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.: Man of Science, Man of Service

By James Dempsey

On Nov. 7, a bronze statue of former Superior General of the Society of Jesus Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., was dedicated in front of the new Integrated Science Complex. A gift of Stephen A. Lovelette ’78  in honor of his late father, Marshall K. Lovelette, the statue portrays a serene Fr. Arrupe—the man described by some as the most well-known and popular Jesuit of the 20th century—kneeling in prayer. It is the latest piece by sculptor Brian Hanlon, who also created the Bob Cousy sculpture in front of the Hart Center.

Lovelette, accompanied by his wife, mother and several other family members, spoke passionately to the assembled group of his love for Mount St. James. The most moving moments came when Lovelette spoke of his late father, Marshall. He recalled, pausing with emotion, his commencement day in 1978, and looking into the stands where his father waved proudly with a rolled up program so his son could spot him in the crowd. The younger Lovelette then described his father as “a man who would never be a saint, but who did see a miracle in his lifetime — my graduation from Holy Cross.”

Fr. Arrupe’s Early Years

Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., (1907–1991) was born in Basque country in northern Spain, the same region that produced Saint Ignatius. His mother died when he was a boy, and after starting this studies for a career in medicine, Fr. Arrupe lost his father. The young man and his four sisters sought solace at the Marian Shrine at Lourdes. Moved by the spiritual experiences he had there, Fr. Arrupe abandoned his medical training and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Loyola.

Some who knew him thought this change of career a waste of a great mind, but, in fact, Father Arrupe’s affinity for science never left him. In 1975 he said that the Jesuit institution of learning could produce people “who are in continual contact with the world of science without losing touch with the world of the spirit.” 

When the Spanish government expelled the Jesuits in 1932, fearing the power of the order, Fr. Arrupe worked and studied in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States; in 1938 he was sent to Japan to do missionary work. There, after the Pearl Harbor attack and the outbreak of World War II, the Jesuit was imprisoned on a false charge of espionage. During this time of great mental suffering, Fr. Arrupe expected execution. When he was released, he returned to his missionary work on the outskirts of the city of Hiroshima.

The Defining Moment

At the statue dedication, Holy Cross president emeritus, Rev. John Brooks, S.J., spoke eloquently about what happened at that Jesuit residence on August 6, 1945:

“At that time, Fr. Arrupe was the director of novices in a house of 35 Jesuit students on the outskirts of Hiroshima. When the first atomic bomb was dropped by the crew of the U.S. B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, shortly after 8:15 in the morning, Fr. Arrupe was seated in his room speaking with another priest. They saw the blinding flash of light, jumped up to see what had happened, and opened the door facing the city of Hiroshima. A hurricane-like blast threw the priests to the floor, shattering doors and windows about them and causing brick, tiles and glass to rain down upon them for seconds that seemed like hours. Once able to stand upright, Fr. Arrupe rushed through the house to discover with gratitude that none of his brother Jesuits had been injured.  He did not know, of course, that he had just experienced the explosion of an atomic bomb and the exposure to radiation it brought. As scores of wounded and bleeding victims fled the city of Hiroshima and made their way to the suburbs and up the small hill leading to Fr. Arrupe’s Jesuit residence, Father quickly converted the chapel into a hospital ward, began ministering First Aid, cleared out the library and other rooms of glass and debris, and made room for 150 makeshift beds. For the next six months, Fr. Arrupe supervised the care of more than 200 survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima.”

The Later Years

The experience persuaded Fr. Arrupe of the essential futility of violence, a belief he would carry the rest of his days. And though this was the defining moment in Fr. Arrupe’s life, he also guided the Jesuits through the sometimes difficult phase after Vatican II addressed the needs of the Church’s people in the modern world. He was elected as Superior General in 1965, and continued in that role until health problems stemming from a stroke caused him to resign in 1983.

At the statue dedication, Fr. Brooks spoke movingly about Fr. Arrupe’s deep love for people in need and ability to connect on a meaningful level with all around him. “His candor, absorption in people and his obvious expertise readily attracted his listeners as he spoke movingly and convincingly of the needs and opportunities of the Society of Jesus and the Church in our contemporary world,” Fr. Brooks said.

Note: With the opening of the fully completed Integrated Science Complex in 2010, Holy Cross will begin a yearlong celebration of the sciences with a series of special events focusing on science in the liberal arts curriculum, alumni achievement, and donor appreciation. Watch for details, including the blessing and inauguration of the completed complex; a visit to campus by Anthony Fauci M.D., ’62, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; special events highlighting student-faculty research; lectures; and recognition of donors who have supported new laboratories and classrooms throughout the entire complex.