Suppression and illness

In 1773, under pressure from European governments, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits. Their institutions were dissolved. The priests had to adjust to a new life.

It is at this point in history that St Joseph Pignatelli, now renowned as the second great figure in Jesuit history after St Ignatius, enters the scene. Born in Zaragoza in 1737, he joined the Jesuits at 16. Before ordination, he contracted tuberculosis, the beginning of the constant ill health that would be his cross for the rest of his life. He developed into a model priest, with a special ministry to prisoners and those on death row.

Rebuilding in the ruins

The suppression of the Society was, for Pignatelli, as for his brothers, the collapse of their world. But the saint did what he could, supporting his fellow ex-Jesuits and hoping against hope that the Society would be restored. For instance, he built up a huge collection of books to be used in future. A 20th-century Jesuit, Fr John Hardon, has noted the significance of this gesture: ‘‘For us, without books we’re like a man without air.’’

Posthumous triumph

Pignatelli used all his diplomatic skills to find loopholes: he persuaded the pope to allow Jesuits to live in community, though their canonical status was unclear. Pignatelli became a kind of quasi-superior of the quasi-order.

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