ROME — The superior general of the Jesuits has replaced the leadership of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, a graduate school in Rome for students specializing in the study of Eastern Christianity.

U.S. Jesuit Father James McCann, who had been rector since the fall of 2010, will return to the United States, according to a statement from the headquarters of the Jesuits, who run the institute.

Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, superior of the order and vice chancellor of the institute, "has begun a process of reorganizing the institute to contribute toward improving its service to the Eastern churches," said the statement released April 21.

Father McCann and the deans of the faculties of Eastern Church Studies and Eastern Canon Law "handed over their respective positions" in mid-April as part of the process, the statement said.

Egyptian-born Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir was named pro-rector to replace Father McCann during the transition. Indian Jesuit Father Sunny Thomas Kokkaravalayil was named pro-dean of the canon law faculty and Maltese Jesuit Father Edward Farrugia was named pro-dean of Eastern Church Studies. All three have been teaching at the institute.

Father McCann told Catholic News Service April 22 that he was remaining in Rome for the time being "to help with the transition" and the reorganization, "getting ready for the centennial of the institute in 2017."

He said the reorganization is "not so much about the program, but the leadership. The institute is not changing its focus" from the study of Eastern Christian theology, spirituality, liturgy and canon law. The Jesuit said he could not comment on the fact that the changes were announced and took place during the middle of a semester.

The Oriental Institute, he said, has about 400 students -- including those studying part time. They come from 48 different countries.

Father McCann, who is from the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Jesuits, said he is awaiting a new assignment.