Pignatelli, Joseph Mary, St.
PIGNATELLI, JOSEPH MARY, ST.
Spanish Jesuit who lived in exile in Italy after his expulsion from Spain (April 3, 1767) and the order's suppression (July 21, 1773) and who became a rallying point for his displaced brethren during the long period before the restoration (Aug. 17, 1814); b. Saragossa, Spain, Dec. 27, 1737; d. San Pantaleone, Rome, Italy, Nov. 11, 1811.
Early Years. Joseph's father, Don Antonio Pignatelli, was of the ducal house of Monteleone in Calabria; his mother, Marquesa Francisca Moncayo, was descended from the Spanish counts of Fuente. His mother died when Joseph was five and his father, four years later. Don Joaquín, the eldest of the eight children, assumed charge of Joseph and his younger brother Nicholás, another future Jesuit. For a time the boys live with a married sister, the countess of Acerra, and then, by special arrangement with the jesuits at Saragossa, as the first resident students at their school; Father José Moreno was appointed their special instructor. Pignatelli, not yet 16, entered the Jesuit novitiate in Tarragona after securing the king's permission as was required of members of the nobility. During his studies at Calatyud (1756–59) and Saragossa (1760–63) he attained eminent success; but he contracted tuberculosis, which afflicted him with varying severity for the rest of his life. After ordination (1762) and the completion of his studies, he taught at Saragossa and served as chaplain of the prison. His merciful attention to those who awaited execution earned him the title "Padre of the Condemned." Pignatelli and a companion would walk beside the sled to which the doomed man was lashed, holding a cloth sling under his head to keep it from pounding painfully on the cobbled street.
Edict of Expulsion. Pignatelli's unsuspected capacity for leadership was first tested in the Cloak and Sombrero Riots that flared in Saragossa and Madrid. His success in dissuading enraged Saragossans from arson and bloodshed was gratefully commended by Charles III, until his chief minister Pedro Pablo Aranda portrayed Pignatelli as the instigator of the rioting. This and similar distortions of Jesuit activities led to the edict of expulsion that was read to all Jesuits in Spain at dawn, April 3, 1767. Father Soldevilla, rector of Saragossa, judging himself unequal to the crisis, transferred his authority to Pignatelli, who, with his priest brother Nicolás, refused the offers of royal agents to return to their homes. The entire Jesuit province of Aragon converged on the port of Tarragona, where the provincial transferred his own extensive authority to Pignatelli, who in vain pleaded youthful inexperience. The assignment was to last "as long as the emergency." In the flotilla of 13 ships, carrying 600 Jesuits to Civitavecchia, Italy, Pignatelli ferried from ship to ship to counsel and console the exiles.
At Civitavecchia, the Jesuits were refused entry because no authorization to disembark had been secured by the Madrid government. They then sought asylum in Corsica, first unsuccessfully at Bastia, where the ships waited offshore for 18 days because of an insurrection on land, then at Ajaccio, where a small Jesuit college, a Franciscan residence, and some vacant buildings lodged the exiles. From that time on Pignatelli's unfailing genius for providing food and shelter became a legend. Although his wealthy sister the countess of Acerra later aided with substantial sums, neither his family's generosity nor other sources of money known to his closest associates could fully account for the fact that funds were always sufficient.
After three weeks in Ajaccio the ships brought the refugees to San Bonifacio at the southern end of the island. There they remained until Corsica fell under French control 11 months later. The law that had banished the Jesuits from France in 1762 then drove them to the Ligurian Coast near Genoa, one of the few places in southwestern Europe where the Jesuits were not under Bourbon quarantine. When they disembarked Pignatelli learned that clement xiii, whose representatives had prevented their landing at Civitavecchia, would give them asylum at Ferrara 300 miles away. In that city Monsignor Francesco Pignatelli awaited them with hospitality that was typical of the family. As soon as Pignatelli had settled his exiles, by then doubled in number by Jesuits evicted from the missions of Mexico and Peru, he arranged class schedules and other academic projects before leaving for Rome to report to the general, Lorenzo ricci.
Exile at Bologna. When clement xiv issued the brief of suppression in 1773, the Jesuits in Ferrara were disbanded and Pignatelli went to Bologna to live in enforced retirement. Forbidden to exercise the sacred ministry, he devoted his time to prayer, study, and collecting books and manuscripts on the history of the society; the library reached a total of 3,000 volumes. Many former Jesuits who gathered in Bologna were assisted by Pignatelli in finding employment and the means of subsistence. Upon hearing that the society had survived in Russia, he secured permission from pius vi to rejoin the order there. However, he was prevented by a physical breakdown brought on by worry over his brother Nicolás, who indulged himself beyond his means and after a period of dissipation was sent to prison. When Nicolás was dying in Venice years later, Joseph overcame his resistance to grace and received him again into the order.
Eve of Restoration. The first effective step in restoring the Jesuits was taken in 1788 by Duke Ferdinand of Parma, who had been unable to take action earlier because of the opposition of his uncle Charles III of Spain. When Charles died, Ferdinand, with the encouragement of Pignatelli, secured the approval of Pius VI; of the Jesuit general in White Russia, Thaddeus Brzozowski (1749–1820); and of the new king, Charles IV of Spain, to establish a vice province in the Duchy of Parma to be attached to White Russia. In Parma on July 6, 1797, Pignatelli renewed his solemn profession and reentered the Society of Jesus. Duke Ferdinand was later poisoned, probably by enemies of the society, and died in Pignatelli's arms.
On Feb. 20, 1798, Pius VI was seized in Rome by French troops and hurried to Valence, France, where he succumbed to ill treatment. While he was being brought through Florence in chains Pignatelli eased his destitution with a substantial sum referred to by pius xi in the decree of beatification: "It gives me the opportunity as the eleventh Pope Pius to requite him in a measure for his memorable act of mercy to my predecessor in his distress, the sixth pontiff of my name."
Provincial of Italy. During this meeting Pius VI authorized Pignatelli to receive novices at Parma. As master of novices, Pignatelli directed their training with his characteristic gentleness. The novitiate was moved to Colorno, where, on May 7, 1803, he received word from the general in St. Petersburg that he was appointed provincial of Italy. Pignatelli, who had held great numbers of Jesuits together in northern Italy, as provincial of Italy sought to extend the society into the south. With authorization from pius vii, on Dec. 3, 1804, he presided at the restoration of the society in the Gesù in Naples, where 170 former members reentered the order. Despite crowded quarters this assemblage of aging Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and American Jesuits resumed their work and prayer. The decree of Napoleon (March 30, 1806) proclaiming his brother Joseph, king of Naples, and the French seizure of the city, again dispersed the Jesuits and brought Pignatelli to Rome, where Pius VII turned over both the Gesù and the Roman College for Jesuit occupancy. Uneasy lest a too much publicized return to Rome incite hostility, Pignatelli purchased an abandoned house behind the Colosseum, named it San Pantaleone, and settled his Jesuits there, so that they escaped notice when Napoleon's forces swept through the city (1808) and carried Pius VII off to Savona and Fontainebleau. From Rome Pignatelli directed the reestablishment of the society in Sardinia (1807) and opened colleges at Rome, Orvieto, and Tivoli.
Last Days. The tuberculosis, which had flared intermittently throughout his life, now hastened the end. He offered his last Mass, Oct. 15, 1811, and received Communion each day thereafter until his death. In a final intimation of the future, Pignatelli, when dying, asked to be carried to the deathbed of Father Aloisi Panizzoni, his predecessor as provincial. He assured Panizzoni that he would not die, but despite his advanced age would succeed him as provincial, take a vital part in the restoration of the order, and live on into the term of his third successor in the provincialate. These events transpired as foretold, and Panizzoni, living into his 90s, was the recipient of the brief of restoration (Aug. 7, 1814). Pignatelli was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1933 and canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII.
Feast: Nov. 28.
Bibliography: c. beccari, Il B. Guiseppe Pignatelli (Rome 1933). d. a. hanly, Blessed Joseph Pignatelli (New York 1937). p. zurbitu, Blessed Joseph Pignatelli (Bombay 1933). j. nonell, El ven. José M. Pignatelli y la Compañia de Jesús en su extinción y restablecimiento, 3 v. (Manresa 1893–94). r. nash, Saint of the Displaced: St. Joseph Pignatelli (Dublin 1955). l. pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages (London-St. Louis 1938–61) v.37. j. m. march, El restaurador de la Compañía de Jesús: Beato José Pignatelli y su tiempo, 2 v. (Barcelona 1933–36; 2d ed. 1944). p. delooz, "Canonizations récentes (21 Juin 1951–12 Juin 1960)," Nouvelle revue théologique 82 (Tournai-Louvain-Paris 1960) 723–72. m. battlori, "José Pignatelli el hombre y el santo," Razón y Fe 149 (1954) 512–530. j. schaack, "Saint José Pignatelli, S.J.," Nouvelle revue théologique 76 (Tournai-Louvain-Paris 1956) 673–688. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46 (Rome 1954) 332–334, 357–358, 360–361, 374–375. h. wolter, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanishe Konsil: Dokumente und Kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al. (1966) 8:503. c. testore, Il restauratore della Compagnia di Gesù in Italia: S. Giuseppe Pignatelli, S.J. (1737–1811) (Rome 1954).
[r. f. copeland]