On July 31, 2020, the Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, Fr. Thomas P. Greene, SJ, became the second provincial of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province. He was named provincial last November 6 by Jesuit Superior General Arturo Sosa. At that time, he was serving as superior of the Jesuits in Belize and as provincial assistant for international ministries for the UCS Province. He previously served as the rector (superior) of Bellarmine House of First Studies at Saint Louis University, and he represented the UCS Province as a delegate in 2016 at the Society of Jesus’ 36th General Congregation. From 2010 to 2014, Fr. Greene was Secretary for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference of the United States in Washington, D.C. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1997 and was ordained a priest in 2007.
Q. Tell me about how you learned you had been named provincial.
A. It was a little different for me than what usually happens. I was in Rome for a meeting. Shortly before lunch (pranzo), during a break in the meeting, I checked my phone and saw that Ron (former Provincial Fr. Ron Mercier) had emailed saying “Can we speak today?” But I couldn’t call immediately due to the meeting and I was supposed to purchase a miter and two zucchetti for Bishop Nicasio of Belize during pranzo. Jesse Rodriguez (a UCS Jesuit who works at the Curia as the regional secretary for Canada and the United States) knew where to purchase such things and was going to take me. When he met me, he said Father General wanted to have a word with me, but we had to hurry since he was about to begin a meeting. So, we ran up the stairs to his private dining room and we found Fr. (Doug) Marcouiller, Fr. (Michael) Garanzini and Fr. General Sosa. He stood up and said, “I wanted to let you know that you have been named provincial.” I was out of breath and don’t remember much else. I was just trying to process it. I do remember joking with him and saying, “Thank you, now I must go and purchase a miter and two zuccheti!” In the Society, you don’t ever imagine yourself as provincial. I skipped part of the meeting that afternoon and sat in the chapel, to just sit with God and take it all in.
Q. What have you done since leaving Belize?
A. I was advised that it would be good for me to take some time off before becoming provincial. I was supposed to do some travel and visit friends and family, but, of course, the pandemic changed all that. I left Belize March 1 and stayed with the Jesuit community at Loyola (University New Orleans), which was in a way its own gift. Because even as excited as I was about my sabbatical, as it got closer, I realized it was better to settle in one place and be quiet. I didn’t have to worry about going anywhere because I couldn’t. I guess in that Ignatian way of finding God in all things, it really did allow me to have a very quiet time of rest and reflection, almost too much. Going from being very busy to not busy is good at first, but by May I felt ready to get back to active ministry. (Father Greene travelled to St. Louis July 1 to begin the official transition process with Fr. Mercier.)
Q. Does the Society of Jesus have a provincial’s school?
A, They do. Charm school, I think they jokingly call it although it’s an important meeting where we learn more about how we interact with our central governance. It’s also an important time to be with other new provincials and to learn from the wisdom of former provincials, and, of course, Fr. General Sosa. I believe there were 42 new provincials named worldwide, which is a large class of new leadership. The meeting was originally planned for November, but now it is rescheduled for March.
Q. Do you know other provincials well?
A. Yes, some of them. I know the other provincials of our Conference fairly well. It’s beneficial to have been at General Congregation 36. As I see other provincials being named around the world, I realize I’ve met many of them at the Congregation. It will be nice to be reunited with some of them at provincial school.
Q. Looking ahead to your new job, what are you looking forward to?
A. There are many parts to the job, and I am still learning them! But, two stand out as primary: There’s Cura Personalis (care of the individual), and I am looking forward to getting to know the men of the province and learning how God is working through them and how God is working through them to give me direction about the province. I also look forward to getting to know our collaborators, the directors of works and others who make our works vibrant.
The other part of the job is care of the mission, Cura Apostolica or care of the works. I get excited because I look at the abundance in our province. We have really good works and good men and good women as our companions in mission. So how do we grow this mission in ways God wants it to grow? How do we engage our apostolic plan and universal priorities? How do we continue to evangelize? How do we continue to do all the things that the Joy of the Gospel (Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation) calls us to do?
Q. The province has released an apostolic plan. It contains some challenges. Have you thought about how you’re going to proceed?
A. I benefit from all of the groundwork that has been done by Fr. Mercier and members of the staff. We have an apostolic plan that is the result of a province-wide input and discernment. So now, the time has come for action. It’s good to have a solid game plan, but you have to execute it! I think that’s what God wants, what we’re being called during my time to – to execute the game plan. We don’t want to rush anything, but I think there’s a need to move forward.
Looking at the Universal Apostolic Preferences and the UCS apostolic plan, one can immediately see that the priority is spirituality – showing people the way to God. I can’t remember the exact words, but when Pope Francis approved the Universal Apostolic Preferences, he said something like, “If you don’t get this first one right (which is ‘to show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment’), then nothing else will follow.” So, I believe that’s the area we want to act on first.
Through the creation of a province Office of Ignatian Spirituality, I think there are some short-term things that we can do even in the pandemic. We’ve seen there are things we can do virtually – the “Ascending with Ignatius” retreat that (Fr.) Mark Thibodeaux offered with over 4,000 people attending online; (Fr.) Hung Pham is teaching the Constitutions to scholastics in Indonesia and leading a virtual pilgrimage to Ignatian sites for 420 people, something he used to do in person. We have many Jesuits in the province offering online resources for prayer and Ignatian spirituality. So, a large part of this office is simply harnessing those resources and organizing them in a programmatic fashion. I don’t see this as displacing the work of our retreat houses; it works in conjunction, offering complementary programming.
One very real question we have now is, “Can a work be Jesuit without Jesuits?” Some say, yes others say no, and some say yes, but not my apostolate! We need to find out; it can no longer be a theoretical question. It is part of our apostolic plan, that we look toward a future when our apostolic works may not have Jesuits. And that’s a reality, given our numbers. There is going to be some pruning, if you will, but pruning is always for growth. Hopefully by reducing, we can grow some of these other initiatives.