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Michael Czerny, Gonzaga alumnus and Jesuit, appointed as a cardinal by Pope Francis

The Rev. Michael Czerny, a 1968 graduate of Gonzaga University, is seen here in this undated photo provided by the Jesuits of Canada. Czerny was appointed a cardinal by Pope Francis earlier this year. (Jesuits of Canada / Courtesy)

Gonzaga alumnus, the Rev. Michael Czerny, was appointed by Pope Francis to be a cardinal last month.

Czerny was born in Czechosolvakia, now the Czech Republic, in 1946 before his family immigrated to Canada in 1948. He majored in philosophy and literature at Gonzaga, graduating in 1968, according to Jesuits of Canada.

He then earned a doctorate at the University of Chicago before volunteering for a post at the University of Central America shortly after the murders of six Jesuit scholars, their housekeeper and her daughter at the university in November 1989 during the civil war in El Salvador.

“He has a track record of being a good Jesuit, someone who engages the world, someone who is always very clear about who Christ is, and he approaches all this in a very thoughtful, ethical, moral way,” said the Rev. Bryan Pham, Gonzaga Law School chaplain.

Pham, who also teaches religious studies courses at Gonzaga, crossed paths with Czerny at a number of conferences and was always impressed by his knowledge of refugee issues and his passion.

Czerny, 73, has spent much of his career advocating for human rights and contributed to negotiations between the United Nations and the Salvadoran government to help end the country’s civil war in 1992.

He was the founding director of the African Jesuit AIDS network before being appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to serve on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican in 2010, according to Jesuits of Canada.

Both Czerny and Pope Francis are Jesuits, explained by Pham as the “methodology” of approaching the Catholic religion. Gonzaga is a Jesuit university and Pham told The Gonzaga Bulletin that Czerny would want the university community to “continue to live in the Jesuit tradition.”

While St. Michael’s Institute, the Jesuit philosophy program at Gonzaga, closed in 1999, fellow alumnus and Pastor of Saint Aloysius in Spokane, the Rev. Tom Lamanna, said fellow Jesuits would be “heartened” to hear of the appointment.

“It’s inspiring that someone that studied here is someone of such integrity,” Lamanna said.

Cardinals are usually bishops in the Catholic Church who are appointed by the Pope and often lead a diocese or other program.

“Oftentimes you have a priest who had a theology background, but he may not know about running an NGO (non-governmental organization), for example,” Pham said. “The new cardinal is someone who is trained to work in that area, who understands the work, who engages in the work, and there is a history of how he has done it, and is quite successful.”

Czerny is Under-Secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. He will continue to address migrant and refugee issues on a large scale for the Catholic Church.

There are 212 members of the College of Cardinals and 118 of them are electors. Czerny is under the age of 80 and therefore will be able to vote to elect the next pope. In 1970, Pope Paul VI ruled that cardinals over the age of 80 could not vote on the next pope, a reform intended to help elect non-Italian and potentially progressive popes.