Yesterday–August 7, 2014–was a day of celebration for Jesuits around the world. It marked the 200th anniversary of Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum, in which Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus to full status within the Catholic Church.
The pope wrote: “The Catholic world demands with unanimous voice the re-establishment of the Company of Jesus. We daily receive to this effect the most pressing petitions from our venerable brethren, the archbishops and bishops, and the most distinguished persons, especially since the abundant fruits which this Company has produced…have been generally known…. We declare, besides, and grant power, that [Jesuits] may freely and lawfully apply to the education of youth in the principles of the Catholic faith, to form them in good morals, and to direct colleges and seminaries; we authorize them to hear confessions, to preach the Word of God, and to administer the sacraments in the places of their residence with the consent and approbation of the ordinary.”
Benedict J. Fenwick was one of those who rejoiced at the turn of events. He had joined a partially restored Society of Jesus in 1806 and was then working as Jesuit priest in New York City. Writing to a Jesuit friend, Fenwick could not contain his enthusiasm: “The Society of Jesus is then completely reestablished, that long-injured, long-insulted Society! That Society which has been denounced as the corrupter of youth, the inculcator of unsound, unchristian and lax morality.” The pope, he stated, had restored the Society as “the only plank left for the salvation of a shipwrecked, philosophized world…. What a triumph! How glorious to the Society! How confounding to her enemies! If any man will say after this that God is not a friend of the Society, I shall pronounce him, without hesitation, a liar.”
Jesuits in the New England province, including all of us who were at home at Holy Cross and free from scheduling conflicts, traveled to Chestnut Hill for Mass at St. Ignatius Church, followed by a social and dinner on the Boston College campus. Our provincial, Myles Sheehan, presided at the liturgy. Mario Powell, ordained just two months ago, preached a good message that blended history and divine providence. The social and meal provided a low-key opportunity to connect with fellow Jesuits in the companionship of our Society.
Reflecting on the event now, I realize that Bishop Fenwick was surely with us, reinforcing the spirit of our times with the spirit from his.