A Jesuit Century: From August 1, 1914

On September 27, 1540, the Society of Jesus sprang into existence by the act of Pope Paul III, approving the outline of the Institute, which was presented to His Holiness by Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the new Order, and started on its glorious career of labors and sufferings for the Church of God, lasting for 233 years, till July 21, 1773, when, by the act of another Pontiff, Clement XIV, the Society' ceased to exist. During this period of its existence the new Order distinguished itself in school, pulpit, confessional, by the publication of books, by giving the "Spiritual Exercises," by marvelous work on foreign missions, and by the conversion of heretics at home.

Toward the middle of the eighteenth century the fierce hatred which had always prevailed against the Order among the Protestants of all countries, and was re-enforced by the Jansenists, Voltairians, and infidel philosophers, brought about an almost universal persecution which ended with the destruction of the entire body. Portugal, which had so eagerly welcomed the early Jesuits, and in whose vast foreign dominions they had labored so zealously and successfully, suppressed them in 1759 ; France followed in 1764, Spain and Naples in 1767, Parma -in 1768. In the year 1759, when the general persecution began, the Society counted 22,559 members in 41 provinces, 24 houses of Professed Fathers, 61 Novitiates, 340 residences, 609 Colleges, 171 Seminaries, and 270 Mission Stations.


The Bourbon governments, not satisfied with having suppressed the Society in their own dominions, demanded with relentless ferocity its entire destruction. The Pope alone who had given life to the Order had the power of extinguishing it. There were on record the most magnificent eulogies of the Order by the greatest Popes during more than 200 years, among them Clement XIII, immediate predecessor of Clement XIV. The latter Pope himself addressed in 1769 a gracious Brief to the General of the Society, praising the Order and granting it spiritual favors. For four years the harassed Pope struggled against the ceaseless and importunate attacks of the enemies of the Society, who even threatened to secede from Rome. He sought all sorts of delays, but was finally brought to bay, and on July 21, 1773, he signed the Brief suppressing the whole Society. Compulsus fed, he cried out. "I have been coerced." It was an appalling catastrophe, without example in the history of the Church. That so great and so powerful and world-wide an organization was destroyed by one stroke of the pen, staggers the imagination.

A spark of life was, however, preserved. Catharine of Russia peremptorily forbade the bishops in her dominions to publish the Brief of Suppression to the Jesuits in White Russia, and they were notified to continue their community life and their accustomed labors. The Bourbons were enraged, but Clement XIV said nothing. There was, on his part, tacit acquiescence. In the year 1783, Pius VI gave his verbal approval to the existence of the Jesuits in White Russia. In March of 1801, Pius VII reestablished the Society for Russia; July 30, 1804, for the two Sicilies. In 1805 the surviving members of the old Society in Maryland were allowed to affiliate themselves with the Jesuits in Russia. In the meantime the horrors and upheavals caused by the French Revolution had had a sobering effect on all Europe, and when Pius VII, after the downfall of Napoleon, was able to return to Rome, he determined that the time was ripe for the carrying out of his long-cherished design of reviving the Society of Jesus for the whole Catholic world. This the great Pontiff' did by issuing the famous Bull "Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum" which was promulgated by him in the Church of the Gesu, on August 7, 1814, the octave of the feast of St. Ignatius. The victim of Napoleon's tyranny, the gentle and saintly Pius VII, is as much revered in the Society of Jesus as is Paul III, who first approved the Institute.

The history of the Order since that memorable 7th day of August, 1814, is one of constant growth in numbers, of expansion in college work, of labors in the sacred ministry both at home and on the foreign missions, of literary and scientific activity. Obloquy, persecutions, expulsions, have, now in one country, now in another, checked the work of the Society, but never entirely stopped it. Russia, which providentially gave shelter to the

Jesuits during the suppression, expelled them in 1820, and they have never been allowed to return to the Empire. During the revolutionary outbreak in Spain, 1820-22, they were attacked and twenty-five were massacred; in 1834 fourteen were killed; in 1868 they were again expelled from that country. During the revolutionary madness of 1848-49, which swept over the Continent of Europe, they were expelled from every country for a short time, and have ever since been excluded from Switzerland.

When the Piedmontese took possession of all Italy in 1871, the Society was suppressed everywhere, and its houses and its property confiscated. Since 1872 they have been excluded from the German Empire, and notwithstanding the appeals of the bishops and the protests of the whole Catholic people, they are not allowed to reopen their houses, and are hampered in the work of the ministry by all sorts of bureaucratic chicaneries. They were expelled from France in 1829, at least their schools were closed, again in 1848, once more in 1880, and lastly by the recent laws enacted under the ministry of Waldeck-Rousseau. When a few years ago the Revolutionary Republic was established in Portugal, it was accompanied by a general persecution of the clergy, and the Jesuits, of course, were banished. In Mexico and the South American Republics the existence of the Society is always precarious. Usually they are expelled, readmitted, expelled again, their fate depending on whether the "Liberal" or the Catholic party gets the upper-hand. At present they are exiled from Nicaragua and Venezuela. This seems to be a sad recital of disaster and failure but the Jesuits possess a wonderful recuperative power.

They have been following the counsel given by Our Lord to His Apostles: "When they shall persecute you in this city, flee into another." They are never discouraged, for although they do not court persecution, they are not very much surprised when it comes. A conspicuous example is afforded by the German Jesuits. These men, citizens of the Empire, are not permitted to have any establishments within the confines of the Fatherland, but they have ten flourishing colleges outside the Empire, in Austria, in Holland, in Denmark, in India, in Brazil, and had, until quite recently, four in the United States. The same is true of other exiled Provinces. The foreign missions usually reap the benefit of expulsions from the mother country.

It is not possible to give here a detailed narrative of the labors of the Jesuits during the century just completed. Suffice it to say that they have endeavored everywhere to be the faithful and zealous servants of the Holy See and of the bishops, and the willing auxiliaries of the clergy. Wherever the heavy hand of an unfriendly government has not weighed upon them they have done good and enduring work in the education of youth, in preaching missions to the people, in giving the "Spiritual Exercises."

In philosophy, in theology, in mathematics and astronomy, in history, in pedagogics, in. controversy, in asceticism, in pure literature, they have distinguished themselves by their publications. Some monumental works have challenged the admiration of even the enemies of the Church. In the foreign mission field they have labored as hard as did their brethren of the old Society, in China, Japan, in India and Ceylon, in Madagascar, in South, Central and Northern Africa, in Syria and Armenia, in Java and the Philippines, in Australia and South America. At the beginning of last year 3,619 Jesuits were engaged in this work.

Two countries there are in which the Jesuits have been allowed to live and labor in security and in unbroken peace, our own Republic and the British Empire, with all its dependencies. In these countries, under the egis of free governments a remarkable growth and expansion of the Society of Jesus has been accomplished. Whereas, at the time of the Restoration there were scarcely two dozen Jesuits within the territory of the United States, there are to-day four Provinces: Maryland-New York, Missouri, California, New Orleans, and the Mission of New Mexico, containing in round numbers 3,000 members. These five centres, not including the training houses for the members of the Order, support thirty-eight flourishing colleges, a number of them having the character of universities.

In nearly all the larger cities of the country the Jesuit fathers have built beautiful churches and administer large parishes with well-equipped parochial schools. The "Spiritual Exercises," bequeathed to his sons by the founder as one of the great instruments for the salvation and perfection of souls, are used by them, with splendid results. What with popular missions, retreats to the clergy, to religious communities of both sexes, and with the special or dosed retreats for the laity, a great work has been done in reclaiming the stray sheep, in lifting up the weak ones, in fostering religious vocations.

Nor have the Indians been neglected. Since the days of the famous Father De Smet and his fellow missionaries, the evangelization of the natives has always been a work of predilection with the Jesuits. The States of Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and the territory of Alaska are dotted with Indian Mission Stations.

Owing to the absorbing labors in the ministry and in the classroom, the Jesuits in the English-speaking countries have not had as much leisure for literary work as some of their brethren on the European Continent, yet they have to their credit a considerable intellectual output enshrined in stately volumes, and in solid periodical publications. They have had a fair share in the making of the great "Catholic Encyclopedia." Much original work has also been accomplished by them in the difficult field of our Indian languages. The Society of Jesus, in the beginning of the year 1913, counted 16,715 members. Its normal growth has brought up the membership at this date to the figure of 17,000.

It is with feelings of great joy, therefore, and with deep gratitude to God that the members of the Society of Jesus are looking forward to the celebration on August 7 of the centenary of the Restoration of the Order. The Holy Father has not only granted them special spiritual graces, but has addressed to the Father General a beautiful letter, from which, as a fitting conclusion of this sketch, the following extract is taken:

It is with the greatest pleasure that We congratulate the Society, which, during these one hundred years, has wrought so well for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and in so many different ways, on the mission fields, in the education of youth, in the teaching of philosophy and theology according to the principles of Aquinas, in the daily ministry of the priesthood, especially in giving the "Spiritual Exercises," and by the publication of good, learned and vigorous books. But in an especial manner do We congratulate the Society of Jesus because it has suffered and still suffers so many indignities and insults from wicked men. For there is no other cause why it is pursued with so much hatred than the fact that it is a great example of attachment and devotedness to the Holy See; and surely no Catholic will deny that it is one of its most glorious titles to renown. We are well aware that the world can not be at peace with those who devoutly follow Jesus since Christ Himself forewarned His followers: "Blessed shall you be when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you and shall reproach you and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man's sake."

These gracious words of the Holy Father should be a deep source of consolation to all the sons and clients of St. Ignatius on the centenary of the Society's Restoration.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Atkinson
4 years 2 months ago
What a epilog story this makes, can't think of any story in history which even comes up to power and excitement of all these years "From Ignatius to Francis", would make "Ben Hur" a childs story.
Nicholas Clifford
4 years 2 months ago
August 1, 1914! What an unfortunate date for reasons that have nothing to do with this article. In one respect at least the article shows its 100-year old age, and that is by its omission of any mention of the splendid work done by Matteo Ricci and his successors in China (and for that matter in helping to educate Europe about China and its ways). Much of which, of course, was undone by Clement XI and Gregory XIV in their rulings against the Society for its policies of accommodation (the Rites Controversy). Benedict's condemnation included a ban in perpetuity on even discussing the issue. Fortunately that perpetuity only lasted until the mid-1930s.
Miguel K'nowles
4 years 2 months ago
The Jesuits' first role is to spread the gospel and sacraments, nothing more and nothing less.


The latest from america

We need to recover and renew in our lives a vision of the church as a pilgrim people, already holy yet still sinful.
Brian P. FlanaganOctober 22, 2018
Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká at the Synod on young people (Credit: Vatican Media)
“I was surprised that they even listened to me,” said Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká. “I am quite young and a woman. I wore a white stole. They are not pushing me away.”
Luke Hansen, S.J.October 22, 2018
Two questions arise: First, is Dean Koontz to be listed among serious novelists at all? Second, what makes him a Catholic novelist?
Richard M. DoerflingerOctober 22, 2018
 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018