Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Notes on the Memorial of St. Joseph Pignatelli.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers St. Joseph Pignatelli, who worked tirelessly to unite dispersed Jesuits during the decades of the Suppression. Descended from Italian and Spanish nobility, Pignatelli grew up on family estates in Saragossa and Naples. Despite his privileged upbringing, Pignatelli encountered tragedy at an early age: both of his parents died by the time he was ten. After spending a few years at a Jesuit college in Spain, Pignatelli entered the Society of Jesus at the age of sixteen in 1753. As a young priest, Pignatelli found himself among the five thousand Jesuits expelled from Spain and its territories by King Charles III in 1767. Pignatelli and his brother Jesuits found refuge in the Papal States, where they remained until Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus in the papal bull Dominus ac Redemptor issued on July 21, 1773. In the years that followed, Joseph Pignatelli played a leading role in efforts to preserve a sense of brotherhood among the tens of thousands of former Jesuits who were dispersed throughout Europe. From his base in Bologna, Pignatelli kept in touch with former Jesuits across the continent and built up a library of books on the history, spirituality and way of proceeding of the Society.

Though Dominus ac Redemptor formally suppressed the Society of Jesus throughout the world, the Jesuit Order continued to exist in Russia, where Catherine the Great refused to promulgate the bull of suppression. As the political climate in Western Europe began to shift in favor of the restoration of the Society, Pignatelli made contact with the Jesuits in Russia in the hope of resuming his own affiliation with the Society and reestablishing a Jesuit presence in Italy. Pignatelli ultimately achieved both of these goals, welcoming a delegation of Jesuits from Russia in 1793 and pronouncing vows in the Society for a second time in 1797. In rapid course, Pignatelli became master of novices and then provincial of the Jesuits in Italy. In the last decade of his life, Joseph Pignatelli welcomed many former Jesuits back into the Society and worked to pass the traditions of the pre-Suppression Society onto a new generation of Jesuits. Though he did not live to see the formal restoration of the Society by Pope Pius VII in the 1814 bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, by his heroic efforts Pignatelli helped to keep the Company of Jesus alive. On this day consecrated to Pignatelli's memory, today's Jesuits give thanks to God for the invaluable contribution offered to this least Society by our brother Joseph. AMDG.


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