The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is happy to announce that Superior General Fr Arturo Sosa SJ has appointed Br Michael Schöpf SJ as the new JRS International Director. He succeeds Fr Thomas H. Smolich SJ, who has led JRS since October 2015. Br Schöpf, who has been serving as Deputy Director for the past two years, will assume leadership on 1 September 2023. His appointment ensures continuity and stability to the work of JRS at this time of unprecedented forced displacement, with over 100 million people worldwide having been forced to leave their homes.
Founded in 1980 by former Jesuit Superior General Fr Pedro Arrupe, today JRS is present in 58 countries carrying out its mission to accompany, serve, and advocate the cause of refugees and other forcibly displaced people so that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future. With headquarters in Rome, Italy and nine regional offices, JRS assists almost one million people every year with education, livelihoods, reconciliation, and mental health and psychosocial support services. JRS has undertaken significant changes in the past years through an institutional strengthening process that made investments in staff well-being, knowledge management, new IT systems, and partnership development.
Br Schöpf has extensive knowledge and experience in migration and refugee issues and is well familiar with JRS’s mission. He worked in Africa with refugee projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda on several occasions between 1993 and 1997. He joined Brussels-based JRS Europe in 2005 where he served as Assistant Regional Director until 2008 and then as Regional Director until 2014. He became part of the JRS International Office in 2021 to focus on programming, organisational development, and advocacy at a global level.
“Accompaniment is at the heart of JRS,” said Br Schöpf. “I am grateful and excited to further develop this mission together with so many extremely dedicated and competent colleagues in a harshening context. We are called to share the lives of our forcibly displaced sisters and brothers who invite us to enter into just relationships and discover our shared humanity. This is how we can be meaningful.”
Br Schöpf has worked alongside outgoing International Director Fr Smolich and JRS Senior Leadership Team to ensure a smooth transition. “I am very grateful Michael will be leading JRS, the largest global ministry in the Society of Jesus,” said Fr Smolich. “He’s the right person for the job. It has been a pleasure to work with him during these months of transition.”
Hailing from Germany, Br Schöpf joined the Society of Jesus in 1989 and graduated in 1993 from the Munich School of Philosophy. In Germany, he was the chairman of the Advisory Board of MISEREOR, the agency of the German Catholic Bishops Conference for development cooperation, and an advisor to the Migration Commission of the German Bishops Conference. He was responsible for the development of projects and partnerships at Jesuiten Weltweit, the work of the German Jesuits for international solidarity. He also taught courses in migration studies and served as a guest lecturer at various universities in Würzburg, Munich and Vienna.
“With rapidly increasing insecurity in so many places and unprecedented challenges through climate change, it is important that we build a strong and innovative organisation that is able to respond to new needs globally in an effective manner. In this way, we can realize the inspiration of Fr Arrupe in today’s world—a visionary who wanted to put everything he had, including his own person, at the disposal of those who needed it the most,” concluded Br Schöpf.