On April 3, 1767, Charles III of Spain expelled all the Jesuits in that country and confiscated their properties. More than 5,000 Jesuits were made homeless in one fell swoop. This was only one of the events, which preceded the 1773 Suppression of the Society of Jesus by Pope Clement XIV. Today, November 14, we celebrate the feast of a Jesuit who worked during this uncertain time to keep the Society alive, St. Joseph Pignatelli.
Pignatelli had been a Jesuit priest for less than five years when the Jesuits were expelled from Spain. Being of noble birth, Pignatelli could have avoided the hardships of the Suppression if he left the Society but chose to stay with his Jesuit brothers. In a turn events, Pignatelli became the acting provincial of 600 Jesuits who left Spain looking for a new home. Initially, they settled on the Italian island of Corsica and later in the city of Ferrara in northern Italy.
For the rest of his life, Pignatelli worked to stay in touch with the now dispersed former Jesuits and to keep alive the ideals of the Society. While he was not a Jesuit in the eyes of the Church, he continued to live his life according to the principals that the Society was founded on. Despite his hard work and perseverance, Pignatelli never lived to see a restored Society. In 1811, he died at the age of 73, a mere 3 years before Pope Pius VII restored the Society in 1814.
While he was not able to die as a Jesuit in name, he was one of the primary forces that enabled the Society of Jesus to continue to this day.
Click here to learn more about the Jesuit Suppression and Restoration