The Missouri district of Jesuit priests and brothers merged with its New Orleans counterpart Thursday to cover an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, and from Missouri down to the Gulf of Mexico. The headquarters of the newly combined district of the Catholic Order, known as a Jesuit province, will be located in St. Louis.
The consolidation is part of a move to reduce the number of U.S. provinces from 10 to four. According to the province’s Father Thomas Rochford, some administrative savings are expected, but the main goal is to make better use of all available manpower.
“If you only have to have four offices instead of ten, I think that’s mostly a reduction in manpower. So some of the people that would have, that could have been provinicials (the leader of a province), can be presidents of universities or high schools, for example,” said Rochford.
The bigger coverage area makes it easier to move Jesuit priests and brothers where they are most needed, said Rochford, something that is especially important now that fewer men are entering religious life. For example, a Cuban-born Jesuit is now serving in Kansas City, helping reach the growing Latino population there.
Rochford said the consolidation also helps the order serve the changing population of the country.
“I used to think St. Louis was in the middle of the country, far away from any borders,” he said. “But actually now as a lot of Latino people have come up to St. Louis, and there’s this big Bosnian population here, so we’ve had to kind of change the way we think about things.”
In addition to physically merging the offices, provincial staff has to figure out legal and financial logistics. But most people who go to a Jesuit school or retreat won’t notice any changes, said Rochford.
Saint Louis University’s Father Paul Stark echoed that sentiment, saying that he didn’t foresee any immediate effects beyond opportunities for more interaction with Jesuit priests and institutions in the southern United States.
“In the past several years, Jesuits have been pretty much been free to go, as we have since our founding in 1540, where the greater need is and (to have) the ability to serve the greater glory of God,” said Stark. “And this enhances that.”
Historically, North America was divided into three regions – East, Central, and West, said Stark, adding that “In some way you could look at it as going back to our roots.”