A towering figure in Jesuit circles in the twentieth century was Fr. Wlodimir Ledochowski, SJ, elected 26th general of the Society in February 1915. He served until his death in December 1940. Elected during the turmoil of World War I, he governed the Society from Switzerland for three years to lessen the impact of that war on Jesuit matters. He went to Spain twice during 25 years as general, but hardly ever traveled beyond that.
In those more formal days, "exterior reverence" to the general prevailed. Jesuits kissed the hand of the general, addressing him as "Your Paternity." Other superiors (and even the priests when dealing with scholastics or brothers) were "Your Reverence." Like other superiors, the general had a fixed place in the refectory and in the recreation room. Much less formality exists today.
Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, succeeded Arrupe to became the Society's 29th general in 1983.
An important part of the general's work is communication: gathering information, making appointments, encouraging Jesuits worldwide. Fr. Ledochowski experienced both more rapid communication and a growing number of questions and issues with a world in turmoil. In voluminous correspondence he tried to adjust Jesuit life to rapid technological and political change.
Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the Jesuits' general since 1983, experiences even more rapid means of communication and questions and issues, but he is also able to travel and meet Jesuits all over the world and to invite individuals and groups to come to meet with him. But he still signs something like 17,000 letters a year and has vast amounts of information to absorb.
Original article (here)