Next Saturday evening, Pope Francis will head across town to church of the Gesù to pray with his brother Jesuits, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the reconstitution of his order.
The Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1500, but was later suppressed in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV. The order was brought back to life forty years later, on August 7, 1814.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope in history.
The Pope’s suppression of the Jesuits in 1773 was the final act in a series of key chapters in the life of the order as they gradually fell from grace in Europe. The Jesuits were first expelled from Portugal in 1759, then from Spain and its colonies in 1767 (the Jesuit founder was a Spaniard).
That same year in Italy the Jesuits were banished from the Kingdom of Naples and in 1768 from the Duchy of Parma. It was finally in 1773 that Pope Clement acceded to pressures from the Bourbon court to suppress the order altogether.
The reasons given for the suppression were various, and included excessive theological polemics, accusations of greed, and over involvement in state affairs. Pope Clement wrote that the Jesuits were marked by “seeds of discord and dissension” within their order, in their relations with other religious, and in their dealings with governments.
During the forty years of its suppression the order continued to survive in small groups in Russia and Prussia. Central to the survival of the order was the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, who refused to allow her bishops to endorse the brief of suppression because she wanted to retain the Jesuit schools.
Many historical studies regarding the suppression have been undertaken this year in commemoration of the anniversary, encouraged by the Superior General of the Jesuits, the Spaniard Adolfo Nicolás.
This will be the fourth time that Pope Francis visits a Jesuit institution since his election.