John Paul Oliva General # 11

General from 1664 to 1681



Nine years had passed since the previous General Congregation—the 10th— so, the 11th Congregation was called to last from May 9, 1661 until July 27. The Delegates had a problem. Nickel, who was 80 years old, was seriously incapacitated and had often asked for a Vicar. The Pope was asked to empower the Delegates to designate a Vicar who would have the right of succession and who would immediately be able to act with the full powers of a General. On June 7, 1661 Oliva was chosen as Vicar. Historians Astrain and Bangert both say that Nickel was "General in name only: Oliva in all but name." Nickel lived on in this situation for another three years and finally advanced in age and a very sick man gave up his soul to his Creator. Oliva who had been elected Vicar with the right of succession at the last Congregation, now assumed his complete role as General.

Oliva was a native of Genoa and had entered the Society in 1616. He had been Rector of the German College, Master of Novices, and an outstanding preacher. To his credit, also, and for the benefit of the Society he was on good terms with four Popes.

During the seventeen years and four months of his generalate, Europe was not a peaceful place and Oliva's Jesuits and their works were in constant peril. The Thirty Years War was still being fought; Louis XIV was on the French throne at Versailles for the glory of France and to the misery of the rest of the world. Catholics were persecuted and condemned for a supposed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London.

But he also had some consoling moments. The Sacred Heart had appeared to a nun in France whose confessor was a Jesuit. The Church of St. Ignatius was finally finished to the admiration of all in 1642. Decoration of the Gesí and the Novitiate Church of St. Andrea al Quirinale was finished to the satisfaction of its architect Bernini, who was a close friend of Oliva.

Oliva died on November 26, 1681 after 17 years and four months as General. His remains were placed in the customary manner in the ossuary reserved for Jesuit Generals in the crypt of the Gesù.