History of the Society of Jesus - Part IV

A narrative account of the History of the Society of Jesus by Anton Azzopardi S.J.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V 


Part IV - On to Schools

Footsteps clattered down the corridor followed by a gentle tap on the door of Fr John's room left ajar.

It was the young George, still chubby, still with bright eyes, snub nose and pleasant smile, who came to Fr John with a pocketful of queries. He had received Fr John's letter, but could not wait for the promised second one. So he came quite confident that Fr John would oblige by telling him viva voce what he had planned to write in the letter.

"Come in!" blurted out Fr John, not quite amused at his being  interrupted from his reading of the intriguing article "Religion and Culture" in the latest issue of "The Tablet". But lifting up his eyes, he snorted, "I am hanged, if it's not you, George!"

"It is, Father, and I have come to pester you!"

"Well, sit down, George! I know you have come to hear about the two missions of the Jesuits about which I promised to write to you in my letter. I apologize for not having had the time to write, but now that you are here, I can, if you like, give you all the information you desire."

"That is exactly what I came here in for. Do, please, Father. I am all ears."

"Well! Let me see" Fr John frowned with concentration. "Oh, yes! I promised to tell to you how the Jesuits started two of their greatest apostolates in the Church, that of education and the foreign missions.

These two, the Jesuits took up, as it were by accident or, shall we better say, by a special design of God."

"Oh!" gasped George.

"However, there is so much to say on each of these," rejoined Fr John, "that today I'll limit myself to the apostolate of the schools. I will tell you about the missions the next time you come!"

"Go on, Father" said George screwing up his eyes.

"When St Ignatius," rattled on Fr John, "started recruiting new novices for his Society, he realized that most of those young men needed further studies and training in order to be able to attain that intellectual standard he  envisaged for Jesuits. So, on the advice of his companion Diego Laynez he set up residences in University towns where the new recruits would be able to follow academic courses. These residences gradually became self- contained schools with Jesuit teachers and with curricula specially adapted for the needs of the young scholastics. By 1544, there were seven of these residences."

Fr John paused for a while and George fell into a moody silence. Then the Father, as if coming to his own again, resumed "It was the residence at Gandia in Spain that, out of concern for the  local young men who desired to acquire an education for a civic career, first admitted secular students to sit in the same benches with Jesuit scholastics.

"There were other moves too, George! In 1543 at Goa in India, the Portuguese asked Francis Xavier to send some Jesuit Fathers to teach in the local Collegio da Bourba. And again in Germany, Fr Claude Jay, wrote to  Ignatius that the Jesuits could not engage in a more essential work for the Church in that distressed country than in teaching. This must have impressed Ignatius!

"But the first Jesuit school proper intended exclusively for secular students was opened in 1548 at Messina in Sicily. The Viceroy Don Juan de Vega, a personal friend of Ignatius, urged the municipality to ask Ignatius to open a school for youth. Ignatius responded in a most magnanimous fashion with the dispatch of ten carefully chosen Jesuits including some of his best men, Jeronimo Nadal, Peter Canisius and André des Freux."

George's face seemed to glow, and he was quick to remark, "So that's how it started, was it? It must have been quite an enticing opportunity for Ignatius!"

"Oh yes. But wait a second!" retorted Fr John. "Ignatius was careful in his appraisal of this new apostolate. For two major hurdles seemed to block his way: two points in the Constitutions he had written and promulgated: the problem of mobility regarding personnel and the vow of poverty. You understand that a school would tie a person down as a teacher or administrator for a relatively long period. But Jesuits were meant to be ready to move at any time to more urgent needs of the Church. Again, as far as poverty was concerned, you realize that a school has to have stable financial income for its running expenses, but Jesuits were not allowed to receive fixed salaries for their work.  These were, in the mind of Ignatius, serious difficulties.  But once it became clear to him that excellent service could be rendered to the Church in the field of education, he applied to this new venture all his talents. For mobility, he slightly relaxed its interpretation, and for this aspect of poverty he relied entirely on benefactors, trusting the providence of God.

"For many long years, that is, up to the time of the Suppression of the Society in 1773, the Jesuits never charged the pupils any fees. The school expenses were defrayed by generous benefactors, kings, nobles, city councils or ordinary folk. But after the Restoration such benefactors did not exist any more and the Society was faced with the crisis of either charging fees or else withdrawing from the field of education for lack of funds. In 1833 the then General Fr Jan Roothaan petitioned Pope Clement XVI for a dispensation from this aspect of the vow of poverty. The Pope granted it, and the schools began to charge fees.

"With the establishing of the schools," continued Fr John, "a pressing need arose for the formulation of norms and instructions to guide the administrators and teachers. After continual probing, sifting and adjusting that went on for half a century the final charter was formulated in the so called Ratio Studiorum of 1599. Ignatius had insisted that the methods of the University of Paris should be adopted, and so introduced into his schools such characteristics as: a distinctly graduated order of studies, a respect for the varying capacity of the students, regular class attendance, and also stable classical studies.

"By the time of his death in 1556, Ignatius had started in Europe 33 schools for secular students and gave the approval of 6 others."

George raised his eyebrows and his mouth twisted into a gentle smile. But he had another question to ask.  "The Jesuits had a school in Malta, hadn't they? Was this opened by St Ignatius?"

"Not quite," responded Fr John, "but that is a long story. I am sure you do not want to hear that saga! For a saga it is, I tell you!

"Oh yes Father, I do!"

"Alright then! But I'll be brief! The college was the Collegium Melitense, whose building still stands in Valletta."

Now Fr John felt more at ease. He could not help knitting his brow and fixing his eyes on George. He continued:

"It was in 1550 that the Bishop of Malta, Fra Domenico Cubeles asked St Ignatius to send a group of Jesuits to these islands to open a college for the instruction of the clergy and the people. The idea pleased Ignatius for in it he envisaged the possibility of future Maltese Jesuits going as missionaries amongst the Moslems in North Africa. So he assigned Fr Nicholas Bobabilla to lead a small batch of Jesuits to Malta. He also wrote to the Provincial of Sicily, Fr Jerome Domenech, asking him to give Bishop Cubeles all the help he needed. Bishop Cubeles on his part promised Ignatius that he himself would subsidise the proposed new college. A circular letter by Ignatius dated 4th August 1554 points to September as the projected date for the opening of the new College.

"Matters were proceeding well while Bishop Cubeles' was still in Rome. But he returned to Malta, disputes and litigations  erupted between himself, the Grand Master and the Inquisitor. So the Bishop wrote to the Provincial of Sicily asking him to suspend all proceedings about the proposed college. So the first attempt at establishing a Jesuit college in Malta failed."

"What a pity!" sighed George.

Fr John went on, "Years rolled on and times changed. Some Knights began to show signs of unorthodoxy, many members of the clergy were uneducated and even more so were the people at large. The Council of Trent (1554-1563) had stipulated that each diocese should have its own seminary. But Malta took its own time to implement that ordinance.

"In 1576, Pope Gregory XIII sent his Delegate Mgr Pietro Dusina on an Apostolic Visitation to Malta to report on the local situation. Both the Vice-Chancellor Mgr Tommaso Gargallo and the Grandmaster Jean l'Eveque de la Cassier were concerned, nay even worried, about the low standard of education of the clergy, the Knights and the people, and they petitioned the Apostolic Visitor to help them have the desired college.

"The first Jesuit to settle permanently in Malta was Fr Gianbattista Carminata who arrived in 1577 having been invited by the Grandmaster on the advice of the Vice-Chancellor, to give the Lenten talks to the Knights. Thanks to his preaching, some Knights formed themselves into a prayer group which they called "Camerata", a name still exists for the locality in Valletta today.

"In 1579, Mgr Tommaso Gargallo became Bishop of Malta and in that same year he wrote to Fr Carminata, S.J., by this time Provincial of Sicily, to send over to Malta twelve Jesuits to start a new college. The Provincial could not dispose of so many, so he sent only three. The Bishop gave them lodging in Valletta and 400 ducats, and the Grandmaster offered them a house and an annual good supply of food.

"Unfortunately, again at this time disputes and litigations arose between the Bishop, the Grandmaster and the Inquisitor, with suspicions of revolts and plots. In this tense situation, the idea of a college was discarded, and the Provincial, Fr Carminata, recalled his men back to Sicily. The second attempt failed too.

"However, I must also tell you that during the plague that gripped Malta in 1592, Bishop Gargallo and some Knights obtained the return of the same three Jesuits to Malta to help the plague-stricken.

"In 1592, the new Pope Clement VIII, possibly responding to the petitions of the Bishop, the Grandmaster and other prominent personalities, sent two letters, one to the Bishop and the other to the Grandmaster ordering them to open a Jesuit college as soon as possible, in Valletta.

This created a stir among the local clergy. They alleged that they favoured a seminary and not a college. They refused to pay the tax demanded of them (mediadecima, i.e. 5% tax), and if a college was to be built it should be at Notabile. In fact they opposed the erection of a college for, they alleged, a college would distract the youth from the trade and work they needed for a living, that is, maritime navigation. But the will of the Bishop and the Grandmaster, backed by the letter of the Pope, prevailed.

"That same year, a small community of Jesuits were invited to come to clear the ground for the erection of the college. After long discussions between, on one side the Grandmaster Hughes de Verdalle and Bishop Tommaso Gargallo and on the other side the Jesuit Fr Pietro Casati representing the Jesuit General Fr Claudio Aquaviva, the Deed of Foundation was solemnly signed in Valletta on 12th November 1592. Witnessing the signing were the Inquisitor, the Vice-Chancellor of the Order, Fra Castiglione Casati and Fr Gaspare Paraninfo, S.J.. The new college was named Collegium Melitense Societatis Jesu.

"This is the whole saga, dear George. Hope I have not bored you with details, but I wanted to give you the whole picture."

George was literally amazed at the fabulous memory of Fr John, how he could retain all those events with dates and names of people and places. He  heartily thanked Father John, reminding him at the same time that he had promised him to tell him all about the origin of the Jesuit missions.

"Oh, yes ! I won't forget! But that will be next time. Now hurry back home, for it's getting rather late."

Back To Top

facebook youtube twitter flickr