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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Lorenzo Ricci

General of the Society of Jesus, b. at Florence, Aug. 2, 1703; d. at the Castle of Sant' Angelo, Rome, Nov. 24, 1775.

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Ricci, LORENZO, General of the Society of Jesus, b. at Florence, August 2, 1703; d. at the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, Rome, November 24, 1775. He belonged to one of the most ancient and illustrious families of Tuscany. He had two brothers, one of whom subsequently became canon of the cathedral and the other was raised by Francis I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, to the dignity of first syndic of the Grand duchy. Sent when very young to Prato to pursue his studies under the direction of the Society of Jesus in the celebrated Cicognini college, he entered the society when he was scarcely fifteen, December 16, 1718, at the novitiate of S. Andrea at Rome. Having made the usual course of philosophical and theological studies and twice defended with rare success public theses in these subjects, he was successively charged with teaching belles lettres and philosophy at Siena, and philosophy and theology at the Roman College, from which he was promoted to the foremost office of his order. Meanwhile he was admitted to the profession of the four vows, August 15, 1736. About 1751 his edifying and regular life, his discretion, gentleness, and simplicity caused him to be appointed to the important office of spiritual father, the duties of which he discharged to the satisfaction of all. In 1755 Father Luigi Centurione, who appreciated his eminent qualities, chose him as secretary of the society. Finally in the Nineteenth Congregation he was elected general by unanimous vote (May 21, 1758). It was at the most stormy and distressed period of its existence that the senate of the society placed its government and its destinies in the hands of a man, deeply virtuous and endowed with rare merit, but who was inexperienced in the art of governing and who had always lived apart from the world and diplomatic intrigues. The historiographer Julius Cordara, who lived near Ricci and seems to have known him intimately, deplored this choice: “Eundem tot inter iactationes ac fluctus cum aliquid praeter morem audendum et malis inusitatis inusitata remedia adhibenda videbantur, propter ipsam nature placiditatem et nulla unquam causa incalescentem animum, minus aptum arbitrabar” (On account of his placid nature and too even temper, I regarded him as little suited for a time when disturbance and storm seem to require extraordinary application of unusual remedies to unusual evils). (Denkwurdigkeiten der Jesuiten, p. 19.) On the other hand it must be admitted that the new general did not have much leeway.

In his first interview with Clement XIII, who had assumed the tiara July 6, 1758, and always showed himself deeply attached to the Jesuits, the pope counselled him: “Silentium, patientiam et preces; cetera sibi curse fore” (Cordara, op. cit., 22). The saintly superior followed this line of conduct to the letter and incessantly inculcated it in his subordinates. The seven encyclical letters which he addressed to them in the fifteen years of his generalship all breathe the sweetest and tenderest piety and zeal for their religious perfection. “Preces vestras”, he says in the last, that of February 21, 1773, “animate omni pietatis exercitio accurate fervideque obeundo, mutua inter vosmetipsos caritate, obedientia et observantia erga eos qui vobis Dei loco sunt, tolerantia laborum, wrumnarum, paupertatis, contumeliarum, secessu et solitudine, prudentia et evangelica in agendo simplicitate, boni exempli operibus, piisque colloquiis” (Let your prayers be inspired by every practice of piety, with mutual charity among yourselves, obedience and respect for those who hold the place of God in your regard, endurance of labor, of hardships, of poverty, of insult in retreat and solitude, with prudence and evangelical simplicity of conduct, the example of good works, and pious conversation). (Epistohe praepositorum generalium S.J., II, Ghent, 1847, 306). This pious and profoundly upright man was nevertheless not wanting on occasion in courage and firmness. When it was suggested to save the French provinces of his order by giving them a superior entirely independent of the general of Rome, he refused thus to transgress the constitutions committed to his care and uttered to the pope the ever famous saying: “Sint ut sunt aut non sint” (Leave them as they are or not at all). (Cordara, op. cit., 35). Unfortunately he placed all his confidence in his assistant for Italy, Father Timoni, of Greek origin, “vir quippe praefidens sibi, iudiciique sui plus nimio tenax” (Idem, op. cit., 20), who, like many others expected the society to be saved by a miracle of Providence. When, to the mass of pamphlets aimed against the Jesuits, the Portuguese episcopate brought the reinforcement of pastoral letters, a number of bishops wrote to the pope letters which were very eulogistic of the Society of Jesus and its Institute, and Clement XIII hastened to send a copy to Father Ricci. It was a brilliant apologia for the order. Cordara and many of his brethren considered it expedient to publish this correspondence in full with the sole title: “Iudicium Ecclesiae universae de statu praesenti Societatis Iesu” (op. cit., 26). Timoni, who fancied that no one would dare any thing against the Jesuits of Portugal, was of a contrary opinion, and the general was won over to his way of thinking.

Disaster followed disaster, and Ricci experienced the most serious material difficulties in assisting the members who were expelled from every country. At his instance, and perhaps even with his collaboration, Clement XIII, solicitous for the fate of the Society, published January 7, 1765, the Bull “Apostolicam pascendi”, which was a cogent defense of the Institute and its members (Masson, “Le cardinal de Bernis depuis son ministere”, 80). But even the pontiff’s intervention could not stay the devastating torrent. After the suppression of the Jesuits in Naples and the Duchy of Parma, the ambassadors of France, Spain, and Portugal went (January, 1769) to request officially of the pope the total suppression of the society. This was the death-blow of Clement XIII, who died some days later (February 2, 1769) of an apoplectic attack. His successor, the conventual Ganganelli, little resembled him. Whatever may have been his sympathies for the order prior to his elevation to the sovereign pontificate, and his indebtedness to Ricci, who had used his powerful influence to secure for him the cardinal’s hat, it is indisputable that once he became pope he assumed at least in appearance a hostile attitude. “Se palam Jesuitis infensum prsebere atque ita quidem, ut ne generalem quidem prsepositum in conspectum admitteret” (Cordara, 43). There is no necessity of repeating even briefly the history of the pontificate of Clement XIV (May 18, 1769-September 22, 1774), which was absorbed by his measures to bring about the suppression of the Society of Jesus (see Clement XIV). Despite the exactions and outrageous injustices which the Jesuit houses had to undergo even at Rome, the general did not give up hope of a speedy deliverance, as is testified by the letter he wrote to Cordara the day after the feast of St. Ignatius, 1773 (Cordaro loc. cit., 53). Although the Brief of abolition had been signed by the pope ten days previously, Father Ricci was suddenly notified on the evening of August 16. The next day he was assigned the English College as residence, until September 23, 1773, when he was removed to the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, where he was held in strict captivity for the remaining two years of his life. The surveillance was so severe that he did not learn of the death of his secretary Cornolli, imprisoned with him and in his vicinity, until six months after the event. To satisfy the hatred of his enemies his trial and that of his companions was hastened, but the judge ended by recognizing “nunquam objectos sibi reos his innocentiores; Riccium etiam ut hominem vere sanctum dilaudabat” (Cordara, op. cit., 62); and Cardinal de Bernis dared to write (July 5): “There are not, perhaps, sufficient proofs for judges, but there are enough for upright and reasonable men” (Masson, op. cit., 324).

Justice required that the ex-general be at once set at liberty, but nothing was done, apparently through fear lest the scattered Jesuits should gather about their old head, to reconstruct their society at the center of Catholicism. At the end of August, 1775, Ricci sent an appeal to the new pope, Pius VI, to obtain his release. But while his claims were being considered by the circle of the Sovereign Pontiff, death came to summon the venerable old man to the tribunal of the supreme Judge. Five days previously, when about to receive Holy Viaticum, he made this double protest: (I) “I declare and protest that the suppressed Society of Jesus has not given any cause for its suppression; this I declare and protest with all that moral certainty that a superior well-informed of his order can have. (2) I declare and protest that I have not given any cause, even the slightest, for my imprisonment; this I declare and protest with that supreme certainty and evidence that each one has of his own actions. I make this second protest only because it is necessary for the reputation of the suppressed Society of Jesus, of which I was the general.” (Murr, “Journal zur Kunstgeschichte”, IX, 281.) To do honor to his memory the pope caused the celebration of elaborate funeral services in the church of St. John of the Florentines near the Castle of Sant’ Angelo. As is customary with prelates, the body was placed on a bed of state. It was carried in the evening to the Church of the Out, where it was buried in the vault reserved for the burial of his predecessors in the government of the order.


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