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Paolo Dezza

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Paolo Dezza (December 13, 1901 in Parma, Italy  – December 17, 1999 in Rome) was a Roman Catholic Jesuit Cardinal, who led the Gregorian University during the pontificate of Pius XII, whom he aided in the preparation of the dogma of the assumption of Mary. He was confessor to Popes Paul VI and John Paul I and was teacher of Pope John II. In 1981, Pope John Paul appointed Dezza and Pittau to head the Jesuit order, which would have preferred a liberal American. In 1991, Dezza was named Cardinal by John Paul II. The Pope personally conducted the Mass of Christian Burial for Paolo Cardinal Dezza on December 20, 1999.

Aged seventeen, Dezza entered the Jesuit order on December 2, 1918. He studied both in Madrid, Spain Naples, Italy and Innsbruck, Austria. On March 25, 1928, he was ordained priest. A brilliant scholar, he was named professor of philosophy at the Gregorian University, but had to spent several years in Switzerland because of health complications. In 1935, he was named Provincial for the region Venice and Milan, and in 1941, he was named head of the Gregorian University [1] With Robert Leiber, Augustin Bea, Otto Faller G. Hentrich and R. G. de Moos he assisted in the preparation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary As head of the University during the war years, after Croatian students started a nationalistic riot, he ruled that in future only the diocesis of origin not nationality is to be given by students of the University. [2]

In 1945 he baptized Israel Zolli, the Chief Rabbi of Rome and head of the Jewish community, who, in recognition of the interventions of Pope Pius XII for the Jews in Rome during German occupation, took on the name Eugenio Zolli. Eugenio Zolli worked for the rest of his life in the Gregorian University. Dezza was said to be a leading candidate in the election for a new Jesuit General in 1946. From 1951 on he headed as General Secretary the Internationl Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC). He was confessor to two popes, Paul VI and John Paul I. He arrived at the Vatican every Friday evening at seven P.M. The only words he ever spoke about his long service to Pope Paul VI during his pontificate were, that this pope is a man of great joy. [3]

After the death of Pope Paul VI, Dezza was more outspoken, saying that "if Paul VI was not a saint, when he was elected Pope, he became one during his pontificate. I was able to witness not only with what energy and dedication he toiled for Christ and the Church but also and avove all, how much he suffered for Christ and the Church. I always admired not only his deep inner resignation but also his constant abandonment to divine providence." [4]. In 1981, as the battle between conservatives and liberals in the Jesuits intensified, the order's superior general, Pedro Arrupe, suffered a stroke. The Jesuits nominated the Rev. Vincent O'Keefe, an ardent American liberal, to run the order until a successor could be found. The pope, in a highly unusual and historic decision intervened and appointed instead Father Dezza, who was known as a brilliant scholar and also a traditionalist, as a special pontifical delegate to serve as the Jesuits' interim leader. [5] Already in In 1979 the newly elected pope warned a gathering of Jesuits that their order was causing confusion among the Christian people and anxieties to the church. [6] The pope knew Dezza personally as his teacher. As a student in the Belgian College in Rome after the war, he had attended Dezza's lectures at the Gregorian Pontifical University. In 1983 the Jesuits elected Peter Hans Kolvenbach, a Dutch academic as their new superior general.

The pope elevated Father Dezza, aged 90, to cardinal in 1991. [7] In 1999, the Pope personally celebrated the funeral mass and gave a moving homily of Cardinal Dezza in which he said:

My venerable Predecessor Paul VI, during very difficult years for the Church and for the Society of Jesus, found in Fr Dezza the servant of Christ, the authentic Jesuit, the spiritual man on whose wise advice he could rely in the difficulties of his lofty mission. I myself created him a special Papal Delegate for the Society of Jesus in an important phase of its history. To serve Christ in the person of his Vicar: St Ignatius' precept was the ideal which inspired the late Cardinal's whole life in his faithful, caring, intelligent and prudent, generous and impartial outlook. He knew of the faults that existed in the Church and in her men, but with caring dedication, full of love and faith, he helped to alleviate their effects, working for the authentic renewal of the Church.
Pope John Paul II[8]

Cardinal Paolo Dezza is buried in the Church Sant'Ignazio in Rome, near the grave of Robert Bellarmin. [9]

Selected publications

  • Adnotationes in tractatum de ontologia. - Rome, 1930
  • La filosophia del christianesimo. -Milan, 1949
  • Metaphysica generalis. - Rome, 1964



  2. Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI, Paulist Press, New York, 1993, p.153
  3. Hebblethwaite,339
  4. Hebblethwaite, 600
  8. -
no:Paolo Dezza

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