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Jesuits in the Sudan

By France Griggs Sloat

Paul Besanceney, S.J., waited until after his 50th birthday to go on his trip of a lifetime. By then he already accumulated multiple degrees—including a bachelor’s degree from Xavier in 1947—taught high school, chaired the sociology department at John Carroll University and served as the Provincial of the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus.

But that apparently wasn’t enough for the Toledo-born Jesuit. In 1980, he decided to get back into teaching, this time, though, in a classroom halfway around the world. He joined the faculty of St. Paul’s Major Seminary in the war-torn country of Sudan, where he taught sociology to the Sudanese priests. In the 28 years since he began, though, his workload has increased. What began with 60 priests has grown to 450 priests.

“I am delighted that I had something to do with that,” says Besanceney, who also served as the provincial of the Jesuit’s five-nation Eastern Africa Province from 1988-1995.

None of it has been easy, though. The endless wars took their toll on the seminary, which was forced to move several times, from Wau in southwestern Sudan to Juba in the south and finally to Khartoum in the north where it’s been since 1991.

Still, Besanceney remains upbeat and active. Now 84 years old and living in Nairobi, Kenya, he turned his teaching duties over to the next generation and keeps busy writing and staying in touch with his Jesuit brothers in Khar-toum. And traveling. The region’s wild animals, he says, “are stimulating to see.” And why not? After all, he’s still on his trip of a lifetime.

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