CV NEWS FEED // After 400 years of continuous prayer and ministry in the historic Austrian city of Linz, the small Jesuit community there is splitting up due to decreasing vocations.
“We are becoming fewer and we are getting older. From there we have to concentrate,” provincial of the Central European Jesuit Province, Fr. Bernhard Bürgler, said in an interview with an Austrian news agency, the Kurier. “The farewell to Linz is very painful—on the one hand, because we are more and more in a position to have to withdraw from places and activities. On the other hand, Linz was a place steeped in history for our presence for a long, long time.”
“There are five Jesuits living in Linz now,” a spokesman for the Jesuits told CatholicVote. “Two are already very old and will stay there.”
The spokesman said that the Jesuits remaining in Linz will be under the Jesuit community in Vienna, instead of the historic Linz community. According to the spokesman, “other members will have other destinations and the community will not exist any longer.”
“The Ignatius Church is also now handed over to the diocese… the diocese has decided to hand the church over to the orthodox Ukrainian community in Linz,” the spokesman told CatholicVote.
The Jesuits in Linz were established as a Catholic presence in the early 1600s during the Protestant reformation; the ruler at the time, Archduke Matthias, brought the Jesuits to Linz to counteract the Protestant denominations springing up throughout Europe. The Jesuits soon opened a grammar school and years later, built a cathedral known as the Church of St. Ignatius, or alternatively, the Old Cathedral.
In addition to their ministry to the surrounding community, the Jesuits of Linz are also advocates for climate protection in light of stewardship for creation. The Linz community is part of the Central European Jesuit Province (ECE), which founded the Ukama Center for socio-ecological change in Nuremberg, Germany, in 2022. According to Ukama’s website, the ECE founded Ukama in response to fellow Jesuit Pope Francis’ call in two encyclicals (Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti) for social and ecological transformation.
The goal of the Ukama Center is to “become a think tank, educational institution, networking site for science, civil society and politics, spiritual center and contact point for activists to organize themselves and plan ideas and projects,” in a holistic, Catholic manner. Fr. Bürgler told the Kurier that the Jesuits will be able to focus more on climate protection through ECE and the Ukama Center once they have handed over the Old Cathedral.
“What guides us as an Order and as a Province in the coming years are the four apostolic preferences: leading people to God, i.e. retreat work in a broader sense, walking with the poor and marginalized for more social justice, a special concern for the youth, to give her a hopeful future. And concern for creation,” Fr. Bürgler said, referring to the Ukama Center. “Ukama is a word from an African language and means that everything is connected to everything else. There are some confreres who network with other climate protection groups and who deal with this topic in terms of content.”
“Increased commitment is necessary because the speed and efficiency of socio-political action is not commensurate with the speed and severity of increasing catastrophes worldwide and the approach of irreversible tipping points in climate change,” he continued.
“All of this is also about developing a spirituality for the time of crisis and the challenges ahead. A spirituality that does not make us despair, but gives us courage through our faith in Jesus Christ,” Fr. Bürgler concluded.
Bishop Manfred Scheuer, bishop of Linz, and the Jesuit community held a farewell Mass this past Sunday, July 16.
“What is missing when the Jesuits give up the community in Linz after 400 years?” Bishop Scheuer asked in his sermon, according to the Jesuits’ website. The bishop said that Linz will be missing the Jesuits’ “areas of spirituality, of retreat work, of proclamation and preaching, of the spiritual accompaniment, the therapeutic pastoral care, the Ignatian pedagogy and the school, the special concern for the youth…but also being on the road with the poor and marginalized for more social justice or the concern for creation.”