The following story was published September 6 on the online Loyolan.

Dr. Joseph LaBrie, special assistant to the president, is taking a leave of absence from the Jesuits, citing it as a “personal decision.” Effective last Saturday, LaBrie no longer functions as a priest. According to a letter he sent out in August to select members of the LMU community, he will remain at LMU both as special assistant to the president and as an associate professor of psychology.

“This is a very personal decision that I have made after both a 30-day retreat in summer 2011 and an eight-day retreat this past summer,” LaBrie said in an email to the Loyolan. “It is about how best I can both live my life and serve others.”

A leave of absence often precedes leaving the Jesuit order, according to Acting Superior of the LMU Jesuit Community Fr. Allan Deck, S.J. – who is also the Charles S. Casassa Chair of Catholic Social Values and a professor in the theology department. He added that separating from the Jesuits without a leave of absence prior is “possible but it’s … not advisable….”

When a Jesuit is considering terminating his involvement, he usually consults his provincial as well as other religious superiors, according to Deck. A leave of absence does not always lead to the individual quitting the Jesuit order, though. But LMU is no stranger to this process, as several members of its community are former Jesuits. Also, during 2004 and 2005, two LMU Jesuits took leaves of absence – Dean of Students Mark Zangrando and a theological studies professor, Fr. Felix Just, S.J. – according to a Aug. 30, 2005 article in the Loyolan. Just returned to the order, the same article states, but Zangrando did not. Both cited celibacy reasons for their departure….

With LaBrie’s change in status, Burcham told the Loyolan that he is not worried about how this will impact his office, saying, “He certainly hasn’t lost all of his knowledge about [the Jesuit and Catholic tradition], and I am surrounded by some other Jesuits that help me with that now. … I feel like the Jesuit presence, in this office at least, is strong.”

But, Burcham added, “I’m sure his change in status will have some impact on what he does this year to the extent that he won’t be a priest and to the extent that I used him as a priest. I will be relying on Fr. [Robert] Caro [S.J., Vice President for Mission and Ministry] and Fr. Deck and probably other Jesuits….”

LaBrie’s departure from the order comes during a period of diminished capacity for the Jesuits.

“Nationwide, the number of Jesuits has declined, to under 3,000 from about 10,000 in 1965,” according to a 2011 article in the New York Times. “More than half are over age 60. That they aren’t being replaced by younger Jesuits is the result of social and economic circumstances, including increased opportunity for poor Catholics and the stringent requirements of the priesthood.”

When Deck entered the order 49 years ago, the California province – which includes California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah – had more than 1,000 Jesuits, according to Deck. Now, he said, there are 380. Regardless, he is not concerned.

“We know that over history, the religious life flourishes or declines,” said Deck.

He added, “I don’t think we need to be alarmed.”

UPDATE 9/6/12 at 7:30 p.m.: The original version of this article incorrectly listed Fr. Felix Just’s name as Fr. Felix Hughes. Additionally, he was listed as rector for the LMU Jesuit Community. He was a professor in the theology department.

For original story, click here.