The Jesuits have chosen Adolfo Nicolas, a Spanish theologian with extensive experience in Asia, to be their new leader or "black pope".
Father Nicolas has spent most of his career in the Far East
The choice of Father Nicolas follows four days of prayer and discussion among 217 electors who came to Rome from around the world.
Pope Benedict was informed of the choice and has given his approval, Vatican officials said.
Father Nicolas, 71, succeeds Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, a Dutch priest.
Father Kolvenbach was elected leader in 1983 and was widely credited with improving the Jesuits' often tense relations with the Vatican.
Jesuit leaders traditionally serve for life, but Father Kolvenbach, who will be 80 this year, had asked to retire because of his age.
Father Nicolas was ordained in Tokyo in 1967 and spent most of his career in the Far East - directing a pastoral institute in Manila, in the Philippines, and holding leadership positions in Japan.
Jesuit superior generals are known as "black popes" because, like the pontiff, they have influence worldwide and usually keep the position for life, and also because their cassocks are black - in contrast to the Pope who usually wears white.