2014—bicentenary of the restoration of the Jesuits

Published in Editorial, Issue 5 (September/October), Volume 22

Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond addressing a gathering on ‘Union Day’, an annual reunion of past pupils, in his Alma Mater, Clongowes Wood, in May 1914. (Irish Jesuit Archives)

Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond addressing a gathering on ‘Union Day’, an annual reunion of past pupils, in his Alma Mater, Clongowes Wood, in May 1914. (Irish Jesuit Archives)

Founded in 1540 by St Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) and his companions, the Society of Jesus worked in schools, churches and other ministries in many parts of the world until July 1773, when, already expelled from most Catholic countries, they were suppressed by Pope Clement XIV (they survived in White Russia under Catherine II). On 7 August 1814, Fr Charles Aylmer SJ, from Painstown, Co. Kildare, was present in Rome when Pope Pius VII pronounced the papal bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, restoring the Society of Jesus. He gives the following eyewitness account in a letter to an English Jesuit, Fr Charles Plowden SJ:

‘At about 8 o’clock in the morning his Holiness came in state to the Gesù [the mother church of the Society of Jesus in Rome], where he celebrated Mass at the altar of St Ignatius . . . we all proceeded to the Sodality [Chapel of the Congregation of Nobles, adjacent to the Gesù] . . . Here the bull which re-established the Society all over the world was read . . . I could not refrain from tears: little did I expect or hope to be present at so consoling a ceremony in the capital of the world, and attended by such circumstances.’

In 1814 the Irish Mission of the Society consisted of eight priests, five scholastics (those in training) and five brothers

The bicentenary of both the restoration of the Society and the founding by Fr Peter Kenney SJ of Clongowes Wood College will be marked by the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus in a number of commemorative events. Those with an archival focus include a publication on Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War; the reissue of Fr Thomas Morrissey’s book on Fr Peter Kenney SJ, As one sent; a special study by students in Jesuit schools; a conference organised by the Irish Catholic Historical Society Conference on ‘The Jesuits and Ireland’; an exhibition of the photographs of Fr Frank Browne SJ; and an art exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland.
One of the commemorative projects focuses on the early Jesuit missions in Ireland. Here/ is a letter from 1642 by the superior of the Irish Jesuits, Robert Nugent SJ, to Rome:

‘There is no human way of expressing the all-round misery of this kingdom. Nothing is seen or heard of here . . . than depredations, slaying of children and women as much as men: fires destroying the furniture and all the property of whole families. In short, such is the fury on both sides, the English and our own people, that it could only be pacified by the extinction . . . of one or the other . . . Our little flock is dispersed and each lives privately among friends. I have no certain news as to what has happened to ours in Dublin and the Pale: I fear the English may slay them. But God’s will be done.’

It is 24 March, and the Ulster rebellion has escalated into civil war. Just two days after the majority of Irish bishops called it a ‘holy war’, Nugent repeats the phrase in this letter to the Superior General. A month later the Catholic Confederates urged Nugent to send Jesuits to France and to the Spanish Netherlands to beg the ‘Catholic princes’ (Hapsburg, Bourbon and the Holy See) for help. Without a chance to ask Rome for permission, he delegated two of his c. 50 men to do so, leading the Superior General later to regret that Jesuits got involved in politics again, something that might open the door to ‘envious calumny’.

The papers are mostly in Rome, run to c. 2,200 documents and span the years 1577–1752. The project will produce (by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 2015) a calendar, and a separate publication of 25 ‘Annual Letters’, which open a Jesuit window on Irish Catholicism in times of persecution.


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