Lorenzo Ricci General # 18

General from 1758 to 1775



At the unforeseen death of Father Centurione after less than two years, Father Giovanni Antonio Timoni, the Vicar General, called for a General Congregation— the nineteenth—to begin on May 9, 1758. On May 21 Trinity Sunday the election was held and the Fathers elected 55-year-old Lorenzo Ricci, the Secretary of the Society, as General. He was elected by over half the votes on the second ballot.

Ricci had been born in Florence in 1703 and had entered the Society fifteen years later. He had taught Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Theology in Siena for six years, was Secretary of the Society for two years, and the revered Spiritual Director of the students at the Roman College.

Those were very trying years for the Society and for the General to see it heading towards dissolution. All the governments of Europe had been ranged against it for several years and during preceding generalates. Ricci had to face the culmination of what had been prepared for years and partly, perhaps, at the fault of the Society itself. Pope Clement XIV was, finally, blackmailed to issue the letter of Suppression for which he is unjustly condemned by some. The Society was forbidden to receive Novices and the houses of the Society were confiscated and the Churches given to others. The whole world seemed to be in upheaval. George III of England was having his problems with his unruly colony on the other side of the Atlantic. Louis XV had died in France and left the country in the hands of a son—sincere but incapable—to rule as did his predecessors. In Portugal a 72-year-old Jesuit, who had been a missionary in Brazil, was accused of being an accomplice in a plot to kill the king. He was imprisoned in the Belem Tower. His imprisonment reduced him to seeing bizarre visions. The poor old man was finally found guilty of heresy, condemned by the Inquisition, dragged from prison to the Rossio Square in Lisbon, there strangled, and his body burned at the stake in the presence of the king.

All countries were expelling the Jesuits and shipping them by whatever means to the Papal States. Some, too old for such treatment died and others left Religion or became secular priests. By 1773 the Suppression was complete. On August 16 the Brief of Suppression was read to the assembled Jesuits and they dispersed to various locales and to other works. On August 17 Ricci, the unfortunate General, was bundled off to prison in Castel Sant'Angelo where he languished for two years not even permitted to celebrate Mass or receive visitors. Eventually he died there on November 24, 1775 after 15 years as General. He testified to the end that the Society was innocent of all the accusations thrown against it.
By order of Pope Pius VI his solemn funeral was held in the Church of San Giovanni de' Fiorentini the church closest to Ricci's prison. By order of the same Pope his body was taken to the Gesú a few hundred meters away and laid to rest in the crypt with the Generals who preceded him.

However, Ricci's imprisonment and death and the Letter of Suppression did not bring the desired end of the Society.

The Letter was valid only in those countries where it was officially promulgated. Frederick of Prussia recognizing the value of the Jesuits as educators refused to promulgate the Brief. So, too, Catherine II of Russia forbade its promulgation for the same reason, recognizing that without the education provided by the Jesuits there would be disastrous effects on her subjects. At first, some Jesuits became parish priests and continued to teach in the Jesuit Colleges as before.

Since they were recognized legally as Jesuits in those two countries, the Fathers in White Russia called a General Congregation—The First in White Russia. They elected as Vicar General the 53-year-old Father Stanislaus Czerniewicz. He was a leading Jesuit of the Province and was Rector at the College at Polotsk.

With both Papal acquiescence and Royal approval the Jesuits continued to live and work as Jesuits. Catherine encouraged them to open a Novitiate and paid no heed to other governments who opposed what she did in her own realm.
Stanislaus Czerniewicz died on July 7, 1785 and the Fathers called the Second Congregation of White Russia to elect a successor. They elected as Vicar General Father Gabriel Lenkiewicz on September 27. He held the office until he died on November 10, 1798. The Third Congregation in White Russia was held early in 1799 and on February 1 Father Franz Xavier Kareu was elected Vicar General. But, in a Papal brief dated 1801 it was permitted that the General Superior would no longer be designated as Vicar General, but with the title of General as was held before the Suppression. Kareu died on July 30, 1802.
By 1800 there were over 200 Jesuits in Russia and many others scattered about Europe-officially linked to the Jesuits who were subjects of the Tsar.bbbbbb

After Father Kareu's death the 4th General Congregation in Russia was held in Poland and on October 10 the delegates elected Father Gabriel Gruber as General of the now fully vital Society. On March 26, 1805 his residence caught fire and Father Gruber was burned to death. The Congregation designated as the Fifth in White Russia was held in Poland and on September 2 elected Thaddeus Brzozowski, a 65-yearold Pole, as General.

Subsequently, the Society was restored to the world by the Papal letter "Solicitudine Omnium Ecclesiarum" on August 14, 1814. What had been lost had been found. The Society was reborn.