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Ripa, Matteo


Missionary, educator; b. Eboli (Salerno), Italy, March 29, 1682; d. Naples, March 29, 1746.

Matteo Ripa, son of a noble family, began his studies in 1697 at Naples. In 1701 he became a cleric; after his ordination (1705) he went to Rome to prepare for the foreign missions. Clement XI, in 1707, named him one of a group sent to take the red hat to Monsignor de Tournon, legate a latere to the Chinese emperor. Ripa arrived in Macau in 1710, remained there some months after the death in July of de Tournon, and then studied Chinese at Canton until the next year, when he went to the imperial court at Beijing. He found favor with the emperor, Hsüan-yeh, and was able, while acting as court painter, to perform some missionary work in spite of the general curtailment of Catholic missionary activity because of the Chinese rites controversy. He was in regular correspondence with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith during these years, and in 1717 he was named a prothonotary apostolic in recognition of his services. He acted as intermediary between the Emperor and Monsignor Mezzabarba, newly appointed papal legate, when he arrived in 1720.

When Hsüan-yeh died (1722), court intrigue intensified and Ripa was the victim of harassment by the Chinese and discrimination by some of the missionaries. Discouraged, he returned to Italy in 1723 with five Chinese, who became the first students in a school Ripa founded in Naples for the education of missionaries. In 1732 Clement XII formally approved the school and made Ripa's group a congregation of secular priests. The school came to be known as the Chinese College; there Ripa, called the Chinese Apostle, died. His foundation prepared priests for the missions until it was suppressed by the government in 1860. Ripa's valuable account of his work was published posthumously.

Bibliography: Storia delea fondazione dalla Congregazione e del Collegio de' Cinese sotto il titolo della S. Famiglia de G. C., scritta dallo stesso fondatore M. Ripa e dei viaggi da lui fatti, 3 v. (Naples 1832). a. s. rosso, Apostolic Legations to China of the 18th Century (South Pasadena 1948). a. thomas, Histoire de la Mission de Pékin (Paris 1923).

[p. f. mulhern]

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