Arrupe House – 1990 and a Bit More

The 1991 to 1992 AIR community with then Fr General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ (first row, center). Also in the group is current AIR rector, Fr Renato Repole SJ (second row, fourth from right).

Arrupe International Residence Silver JubileeEverything has a pre-history and Arrupe International Residence (AIR) is no exception. Few will know who first spoke about the idea of a common house of studies for Jesuits in East Asia. It was Fr Robert Deiters SJ, then Provincial of Japan, who first talked about an Asian Juniorate. He experienced in his own province a need for facility in English. He also saw that there probably could not be adequate cooperation among the Jesuit provinces in this area until a sizeable number of Jesuits got to know one another. But that was some time before AIR was conceived.

Fr Deiters, however, was not the founder of AIR. The founder was Fr Daven Day SJ of Australia, the President of what was then the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania. He had the same concerns as Fr Deiters, but he discovered further needs and acted on this discovery. One of the concrete needs was the intellectual formation of young Jesuits of the smaller units in the Jesuit Conference. These were Thailand, Malaysia-Singapore, Micronesia and later Timor-Leste and Myanmar. Fr Day engaged in lots of planning and persuasion of the major superiors of the Conference. It is clear to me that AIR would not have existed were it not for Fr Day’s vision and persistence. Even after AIR became a reality, Fr Day, as the house’s first major superior, was much involved with its first few years.

Recently, I found the group picture of the first year at AIR (1990 to 1991); and happily, old age did not prevent me from remembering the names of everyone in that picture. There were two staff members, Fr Peter Kim Se Mang SJ of Malaysia, who was Prefect of Studies, and Fr James Meehan SJ, who was Prefect of spiritual matters. And there was the rector. Ten young men were from Malaysia-Singapore Region, three from the Philippine Province, two from the Indonesian Province. There was one each from the Chinese Province, as well as from Upper Germany, North Germany, Thailand and Micronesia. Later Australia, Korea, India and places in Europe and North America were added.

The first AIR community, which included current Philippine Jesuit Provincial Fr Antonio Moreno SJ, current Malaysia-Singapore Regional Superior Fr Colin Tan SJ, and then AIR Rector Fr William McGarry SJ

What are these men doing today? Twelve men remain in the Society. One is now Philippine Provincial, another the Regional Superior of the Malaysia-Singapore Region, one is Vicar General in the Archdiocese of Singapore, one is in the Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia, one is a province treasurer; one is in charge of the Apostleship of Prayer in the Philippines, one is a parish priest, one is in Vatican Radio, three run retreat houses, one teaches in a university.  The rest have left the Society and are husbands, fathers, bachelors or a combination.

In those early years there were a number of things that made things easier than what might have been the case. All of the men had adequate to excellent English and the effort to create programmes for spiritual growth was made easy because the young men desired them. Most took responsibility for their own formation as they were urged to do as mature young Religious. While there were some of the problems that come with any new house, there was considerable openness to sharing in the house chores. All had a common vocabulary from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, and most were deeply affected by the spirit and values of the Exercises.

AIR Silver Jubilee bookWe have to be grateful for the many things that pre-existed our occupation of AIR on the Ateneo de Manila campus. These were a support for what we were sent to achieve. The Ateneo University with its liberal arts curriculum and the set-up of the Loyola School of Theology were readymade for these Jesuit students, and both institutions were open to considering suggestions from our particular needs. Even in that first year, there was an academics committee with faculty members from both schools so that we could quickly learn what was expected of us and how we should direct the scholastics and brothers. Fortunately we had three Filipinos in formation, two Philippine Province priests among the four official consultors of the rector in addition to two successive rectors of the Loyola House of Studies, Frs Salonga and Balchand, to advise us.

Of course, there were difficulties. There was an unavoidable lack of familiarity with what was new. The university was largely unknown to us. Very few knew any Tagalog, and few knew much about Philippine culture. Although each was nourished by the Ignatian Exercises and other Jesuitica, there were occasional miscommunications because of differences in previous formation. There were inevitable distractions too because of the need to complete the building’s construction, hire the help, and distribute the house jobs – all this when we were anxious to get busy with the growth of the young men.

Cultural differences were occasionally a concern, but the biggest problem overall was the Jesuit age spread. We had young men just out of the novitiate right up to ordination and beyond. Before long, however, we found some ways to ameliorate the problem. For instance we created groups that met several times a month: pre-regency and theology groups, and later, even special studies groups.

Now, 25 years later, there are some obvious differences from how things were in the early 1990s. AIR is now primarily a theologate, providing a residential and community experience that complements the Asian Theology Programme offered by Loyola School of Theology. Residents now come not only from Asia Pacific but also from provinces in Europe and Africa. There are also more people in AIR now than in the early years. The number of residents never went beyond 42 in the ‘90s but in recent years, the population reached about 60.  At the end of 2015, it had close to 50 residents.

AIR Silver Jubilee MassAIR Silver Jubilee skit
AIR 2014 Community

From the beginning, the Society of Jesus has always been international. If ever the Society ceases to be international in spirit and reality, it will also cease to be the Jesuit body conceived by Ignatius. I believe that AIR was and is the fruit of that concern beyond borders; and at the same time, it is one of the seeds from which internationality will grow.

The friendships formed at AIR have to lead to openness to cooperation in Asia Pacific and beyond. Its existence is a reminder and a stimulus to our internationality. I am convinced that it has contributed to the expanded vision of the Major Superiors of what is now the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific. AIR has also been a spur to the generosity of the Philippine Province. We have only to look at the 12 Arrupe men from that first year alone who are working in the Asia Pacific vineyard and beyond. And now we have alumni from 24 other years.

Fr William McGarry SJ
First rector of Arrupe International Residence


Related stories: Reflections by and stories of past and present members of the AIR community

Lessons from a silver jubilee by current AIR rector Fr Renato Repole SJ

Diversity was something we celebrated by Philippine Jesuit Provincial Fr Tony Moreno SJ, who was a member of AIR's first community

Formators and formation at AIR by JCAP Formation Delegate Fr Norris Seenivasan, one of AIR’s early residents 

Warmly welcomed halfway across the world by Fr Ignatius Tambudzai SJ of the Zimbabwe-Mozambique Jesuit Province

Expanding horizons in formation by Myanmarese Scholastic Pius Than Naing Lin SJ, one of the newest members of the AIR community

He knew where his heart was, the story of Sch Richie Fernando SJ, one of AIR’s martyrs