Ten Things You Didn't Know About the Jesuits…
- They invented the trap door. Without the Jesuits, who wrote and directed plays in their 16th and 17th-century schools, modern theater—and film—would be vastly different. To take one example, the Wicked Witch of the West wouldn't have been able to disappear so easily in "The Wizard of Oz." Jesuits also invented or perfected the "scrim," the sheer curtain used in theaters today.
- They discovered quinine (called "Jesuit bark" in the 16th century) used today for anti-malarial drugs and, not incidentally, for tonic water. Without Jesuits you wouldn't be enjoying your gin and tonic. Nor would the West have known as early about ginseng or the camelia flower.
- Their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the Spanish-soldier-turned-mystic may be the only saint with a notarized police record: for nighttime brawling with an intent to cause bodily harm. (Needless to say, this came before his conversion.)
- Their dictionaries and lexicons of the native languages in North America in the 17th century were the first resources Europeans used to understand these ancient tongues, and still provide modern scholars with the earliest transcriptions of the languages. Of the long and detailed letters they sent back to Europe, the legendary American historian Francis Parkman said, “In respect to the value of their content, they are exceedingly unequal.”
- They located the source of the Blue Nile, and charted large stretches of the Amazon and Mississippi Rivers.
- They educated Descartes, Voltaire, Moliere, James Joyce, Peter Paul Rubens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Fidel Castro, Alfred Hitchcock and Bill Clinton; not to mention Bing Crosby, Vince Lombardi, Robert Altman, Chris Farley, Salma Hayek and Denzel Washington.
- They founded the city of Sao Paolo, Brazil.
- There are 35 craters on the moon named for Jesuit scientists. And Athanasius Kircher, a 17th-century Jesuit scientist, called “master of a hundred arts” and “the last man to know everything,” was a geologist, biologist, linguist, decipherer of hieroglyphics and inventor of the megaphone.
- They inspired the film "On the Waterfront," based on the groundbreaking labor-relations work of the Jesuit John Corridan, who worked in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. (His part was played by Karl Malden, who, last year, died 50 years to the day after Father Corridan.)
- They count 40 saints and dozens of blesseds (near-saints) among their members, including the globe-trotting missionary St. Francis Xavier, and count among their famous "former" members Garry Wills, John McLaughlin and Jerry Brown. And now, a pope!
Paul D. McNelis, S.J.
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