Rome — Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, superior of the Jesuits, has named Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, outgoing president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, to be the next director of Jesuit Refugee Service.
The JRS international office in Rome announced the appointment Tuesday. Smolich will succeed German Jesuit Fr. Peter Balleis.
Before taking up the new post Nov. 1, 2015, Smolich will study French and work on special projects at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in California; will spend four months with JRS in eastern Congo, working with displaced Congolese as well as refugees from Rwanda and other parts of Central Africa; and will spend time with JRS Middle East, helping respond to the needs of displaced people within Syria and refugees in Beirut, Lebanon, and Amman, Jordan.
JRS, founded in 1980, has 10 regional offices around the world; with more than 1,800 staff and volunteers, including 70 Jesuits, it serves more than of 950,000 refugees each year.
"I'm deeply honored and grateful that Father General would ask me to do this because JRS really speaks to the heart of Jesuit identity and our Jesuit mission. It's going where the need is greatest," Smolich said in a statement released by JRS.
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Because of its work in war-torn regions, JRS employees and volunteers often find themselves in the crosshairs of global conflict, the statement said. In June, Jesuit Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar was kidnapped in Afghanistan and his whereabouts were still unknown in late July.
"The church often is called upon to do dangerous work," Smolich said. "I think one has to prepare for this as much as one can, but ultimately, realize that this is where we are called to be -- on the frontiers -- and the frontiers are sometimes dangerous."
Smolich entered the California Province of the Jesuits in 1974 and was ordained a priest in 1986. He was provincial of the California Province from 1999 to 2005.