New International Director for JRS
The Jesuit Superior General, Fr Adolfo Nicolás SJ, has appointed Fr Thomas Smolich SJ as the International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). He will take over from Fr Peter Balleis SJ in November 2015.
Fr Smolich has been President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States for the past eight years. He says he is “deeply honoured and grateful” for this appointment “because JRS really speaks to the heart of Jesuit identity and our Jesuit mission. It's going where the need is greatest.”
Founded in 1980 by former Jesuit Superior General Fr Pedro Arrupe, JRS has more than 1,800 staff and volunteers, including 70 Jesuits, and serves upwards of 950,000 refugees per year. In addition to health and social services, JRS offers formal and informal instruction – from pre-school to vocational training to computer and language classes – to approximately 280,000 children, young people and adults each year.
"JRS tends to go to places where others can't go or are unable or unwilling to go,” says Fr Smolich. “It says who we are as evangelising people – whether someone is a Catholic or not is not the question. We are there to preach the good news."
Because of its work in war-torn regions, JRS employees and volunteers often find themselves in the crosshairs of global conflict. In June, JRS Country Director Fr Alexis Prem Kumar SJ was kidnapped in Afghanistan and his whereabouts are still unknown. Fr Smolich admits that "the Church often is called upon to do dangerous work. I think one has to prepare for this as much as one can, but ultimately, realise that this is where we are called to be – on the frontiers – and the frontiers are sometimes dangerous."
Once he assumes the reins of JRS International Director, Fr Smolich will travel extensively, with annual visits to all 10 of JRS regional operations. JRS-UK is based at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre in East London.
"Over the last ten years JRS has doubled in size,” the current International Director Fr Balleis points out. “Fr Smolich is the right man to lead us in this period of continued expansion given his previous commitment to social issues. He understands JRS and what drives us, the importance of accompaniment and our closeness to refugees. The time he spends with JRS field staff before he takes over as JRS International Director in Rome will allow him to experience the compassion and love which drive our projects."
Photo: Fr Peter Balleis SJ (left) with incoming JRS International Director Fr Tom Smolich SJ (Christian Fuchs/Jesuit Refugee Service)