Joseph Pignatelli


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Jesuit priest. A Spanish grandee who saw both the suppression and the restoration of the Society of Jesus, Pignatelli holds a unique place in the history of that Order. His father was Italian, his mother Spanish, and both were of princely families. He was educated in the town of his birth, Saragossa, and made his vows as a Jesuit in 1755. He was ordained priest in 1762, taught young boys in Saragossa, visited the prisons, and ministered specially to those condemned to execution.

In 1767 Charles III of Spain expelled the Jesuits from his kingdom and confiscated their property. For the rest of his life Pignatelli was an exile, first in Corsica, then in Italy. In 1773 the pope, Clement XIV, under strong Bourbon pressure, agreed to suppress the Society altogether as an administrative measure and without admitting that various charges against them were proved. They then numbered about 23,000. Pignatelli then lived at Bologna for about twenty years, studying their history and providing, as best he could, for those of them who were in need.

A paradox of the whole story is that the autocratic empress Catherine the Great of Russia refused to allow the brief of suppression to be read or executed in her dominions. In White Russia, therefore, Jesuits continued to exist, and from there a foundation was made in Parma under the protection of its duke. In 1797 Fr Pignatelli made his profession again at the age of sixty and was appointed master of novices in 1799. In 1803 the superior of Russia appointed him provincial of Italy. French troops under Napoleon pursued them from Parma and later Naples. Eventually many of them came back to Rome, where Pius VII offered them their former college and later S. Pantaleon's church near the Colosseum. In October 1811 he was confined to bed and died soon after. Restoration followed in Sicily and Sardinia and eventually, three years after Pignatelli's death, in the Church as a whole. He was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954 and declared to be the chief link between the Society which had been and the Society that was to be. Feast: 28 November.

Lives by F. Nonell (3 vols. 1893–4) and D. A. Hanly (1938); see also B.L.S., xi. 219–20; J. N. Tylenda, Jesuit Saints and Martyrs (1983), pp. 405–7.

Subjects: Christianity.

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