A Servant of the Gospel and of the Church
Remarks by Pierre de Charentenay, S.J.
Father Jean-Yves Calvez had three public lives. The first began with great speed in 1956, with the publication, at the age of 29 years, of his monumental work on La Pensée de Karl Marx. The second from 1971 to 1983 took place in Rome, where he was general assistant to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Superior General of the Society of Jesus. The third was a return to Paris life to direct the Center for Research and Social Action (CERAS) and then the journal Etudes and to participate in the activities of teaching and research of Centre Sèvres. During these three periods, he traveled the world, visiting Jesuit communities, giving courses in Spanish in Argentina, participating in English on the Board of Directors of Georgetown University in Washington. He returned regularly to Rome for some discussions in Italian. He exchanged views in Russian with Orthodox authorities and he participated in German at conferences beyond the Rhine. At the same time, he published forty works on economics, political philosophy and especially on the social doctrine of the Church which would become finally his most constant field of teaching and publication.
Gifted with a capacity for work beyond the ordinary, Fr. Calvez lived a very full life from the very beginning. Born in Saint-Brieuc, in Brittany, on February 3, 1927, he entered the Society of Jesus at the young age of sixteen years. He was ordained a priest on July 31, 1957 and pronounced his final vows on February 2, 1961. He died in Paris on the morning of January 11, 2010, following a pulmonary edema with cardiac complications.
Fr. Calvez was definitely one of the great Jesuit figures of the 20th Century. In a typically Jesuit way of proceeding, he began with a very technical study of the structure of Marxism and the Soviet Union at the very time that the United States was immersed in the hunt for communists and the Soviet Union was struggling against dissidents and opposing rebels (Budapest, 1956). Then he collaborated with Jacques Perrine on a great work, Eglise et société (1961), which developed a political and philosophical perspective on Marxism and, at the same time, an analysis of the Church’s teaching on the world. The book prefigured what Vatican II would open up in its document, Gaudium et Spes, namely, a positive perspective on the world. He was quickly called on to assume institutional tasks in Paris at the Institute of Social Studies of the Catholic Institute of Paris. He was the director of Action Populaire. He even participated in the founding of INADES, the Institute of Development in Abidjan.
In 1967 at the age of 40 years, he was named President of the Provincials of France (there were four provincials at that time) with the mission to unify the four provinces into only one Province of France. He was noteworthy during the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (1967-1968) and he was called to Rome by Father General Pedro Arrupe in 1971. He was named general assistant by the 32nd General Congregation and remained in that position until the 33rd General Congregation in 1983 that elected Father Kolvenbach as the new Superior General. Father Calvez was a close collaborator and a carefully listened to adviser of Father Arrupe who valued him greatly. He actively participated in the preparation for the 32nd General Congregation (1974-1975) which promulgated the decree on “Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice.” He had a central role during this 32nd General Congregation of which he was Vice President. Difficult debates on the priestly character of the Society of Jesus led to his acting as intermediary between the Society and the Holy See, in particular with Cardinal Villot. At the side of Father Arrupe, he spent himself without reserve to pass the decrees of the General Congregation, confronting with courage all the difficulties that presented themselves. When Father Arupe suffered a stroke in 1981 that rendered him unable to govern, Father Calvez remained at the side of Father Paolo Dezza who was named by Pope John Paul II as “Pontifical Delegate for the Society of Jesus.” He worked thus until a general congregation was convoked to elect a successor to Father Arrupe. It was time for him to return to Paris, having visited during his time in Rome 95 per cent of the Jesuit communities in the world.
Fr. Calvez then dedicated himself to making known the writings of Fr. Arrupe. In 1985, he had published by Desclée de Brouwer Bellarmin an excellent collection of his writing with the title Écrits pour évangéliser. More recently, he contributed “Le gouvernement d’un prophète” to the publication of the Lessius edition, Pedro Arrupe, supérieur general des jésuites (1965-1983).
He loved returning to Rome, to meet again with cardinals and bishops he had known, not merely to reminisce, but to question them on the life of the Church and its evolution.
Returning to France, Fr. Calvez became the director of CERAS from 1984 to 1989, and editor-in-chief of the journal Etudes from 1989 to 1995, while teaching on the Jesuit Faculty of Paris at Centre Sèvre in the Department of Public Ethics which he chaired from 2002 to 2006. At the invitation of Cardinal Lustiger, he also gave Lenten talks at Notre Dame.
From 1983, the year he returned to Paris, he published numerous works on the social teaching of the Catholic Church, commenting on its most important texts and tracing its history through the greatest figures in Chrétiens penseurs du social (two books published by Cerf). But he also addressed other themes like politics, Marxism, liberalism, and the Third World.
An intellectual of great renown, as one can see in his career, Jean-Yves Calvez remained above all a Jesuit at the service of the Gospel and the Church. He accepted heavy responsibilities in the Society of Jesus and he never stopped responding positively to requests from Church authorities, in Rome or Paris, with great fidelity and an intelligent sense of service.
He was also a true religious, a very hard worker, totally detached and free, with complete modesty. He always refused in principle all honors and honorifics. He lived his life out of a desire to respond to the call of Christ which brought him into the Society of Jesus. His legacy is a monumental amount of work but above all a way of living as a Jesuit that leaves his brother Jesuits with a model and an inspiration.
Pierre de Charentenay, S.J.
Editor-in-Chief of the journal
©L’Osservatore Romano – January 13, 2010