Saint of the Day – 14 November – Saint Joseph Maria Pignatelli SJ (1737 – 1811) Religious Priest of the Society of Jesus, known as “Restorer of the Society of Jesus” and “The Second Founder of the Society of Jesus” – born as José María Pignatelli on 27 December 1737 in Zaragoza, Spain and died on 15 November 1811, aged 73, in Rome. Patronage – Jesuit Novices.
Saint Joseph Pignatelli was born in Saragossa, Spain, of noble descent. His mother died when he was six and his father moved with the younger children to Naples but within four years his father also died.
At twelve, Joseph returned with his younger brother, Nicholas, to Saragossa, where they studied at the Jesuit school. By special privilege, they resided in the Jesuit community. Living among the Jesuits convinced Joseph of his vocation and in 1753, he entered the novitiate at Tarragona and took his religious vows two years later. Joseph spent the following year at Manresa, doing classical studies, the next three years studying philosophy at Calatayud and the subsequent four years back at Saragossa, for his theology.
After Joseph was ordained in 1762, he taught grammar to young boys at his old school and assisted in its parish. He taught for four and a half years, visited the local prisons and ministered to condemned convicts about to be executed. This apostolate ended abruptly when in 1767, King Charles III expelled the Jesuits from his kingdom and confiscated their property, making five thousand Jesuits homeless with one royal stroke of the pen.
Fr Pignatelli was made the acting provincial over some 600 exiled Jesuits on board thirteen ships during their three months at sea before arriving at Bonifacio, on the southern tip of Corsica. Later they were taken away to Genoa. After travelling three hundred miles on foot, they arrived at Ferrara, in the Papal States, tired and exhausted but were welcomed by Fr Pignatelli’s cousin and future cardinal, Msgr Francis Pignatelli.
The princes of Europe were pressuring the Pope to suppress the Society. Although Clement XIII heroically withstood the pressure, his successor, Clement XIV crumbled beneath it and decreed the dissolution of the Society of Jesus. This meant, that Fr Pignatelli and 23,000 others were no longer Jesuits and were no longer bound by their vows.
Saddened by this decree, Fr Pignatelli moved to Bologna where he and his brother, Nicholas, also a Jesuit, continued to live the life of a Jesuit and for the next twenty four years (1773-1797) he kept in contact with his dispersed brethren. Meantime, in White Russia (today’s Belarus), the Jesuits survived, because the Russian Czarina, Catherine II did not carry out the suppression. When Fr Pignatelli heard about this, he obtained permission from Pope Pius XI to affiliate with the Russian Jesuit province. Meantime Ferdinand, Duke of Parma also entered into negotiations with White Russia and in 1793, three Jesuits came to his Duchy to open a house for the Society. Fr Pignatelli associated himself with this group and in 1797, at sixty, he also promised God poverty, chastity and obedience, just as he did in Spain in 1755.
Fr Pignatelli was made Master of novices in 1799 and in 1803, he was appointed provincial of Italy. When the Society was restored in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, many former Jesuits came to them to be re-admitted and the Jesuit apostolate became active again.
Fr Pignatelli and the other Jesuits were expelled from Naples when Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte overran the country. They headed for Rome and were welcomed by Pope Pius VII. Within months of their arrival in Rome, the Jesuits set up a novitiate at Orvieto and were teaching in six diocesan seminaries. During the exile of Pope Pius VII and the French occupation of the Papal States, the Society continued untouched, owing largely to the prudence of Pignatelli, he even managed to avoid any oaths of allegiance to Napoleon. He also secured the restoration of the Society in Sardinia in 1807. Fr Pignatelli was already seventy and had been in exile for forty years when he came to Rome. He still cherished the hope that the Society would be restored throughout the world during his lifetime. His health was weakening and during his last two years, he suffered from frequent hemorrhages due to tuberculosis and was soon confined to bed.
Fr Pignatelli died peacefully and serenely on 15 November 1811 without seeing the end of the 41-year suppression. However, his dearest hope of seeing the entire Society restored was realised, when Pope Pius VII decreed it on 7 August 1814, three years after his death.
His remains rest today in a reliquary under the altar of the Chapel of the Passion in the Church of the Gesù in Rome.
The cause for Pignatelli’s Canonisation was introduced under Pope Gregory XVI. He was Beatified on 21 May 1933 by Pope Pius XI and was Canonised on 12 June 1954 by Venerable Pope Pius XII.
After St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, Pignatelli is arguably the most important Jesuit in its subsequent history, linking the two Societies, the old Society which was first founded in 1540 and the new Society which was founded forty years after it had been suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. Pignatelli can thus be rightly considered the saviour and restorer of the Society of Jesus.