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Wlodimir Ledochowski

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Włodzimierz Ledóchowski, S.J. (October 7, 1866 - December 13, 1942) was the twenty-sixth Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

He was born on the family estate Sitzenthal in Loosdorf, near St. Pölten (Lower Austria), the son of Count Antoni Halka Ledochowski. His uncle was Mieczysław Halka Ledóchowski, and his sisters included Saint Ursula Ledóchowska, and Blessed Maria Teresia Ledóchowska. His brother Ignacy Kazimierz Ledóchowski was a General in the Polish Army.

He studied at the Theresianum in Vienna and for a time was page to the Empress. He studied Law at the Jagellonian University and then began studies for the secular priesthood.

While attending the Pontifical Gregorian University, he decided to become a Jesuit and entered the Society in 1889. Five years later he was ordained a Jesuit priest. At first he took to writing, but was soon made Superior of the Jesuit residence in Kraków, then, Rector of the College. He became the Polish Vice-Provincial superior in 1901 and Provincial superior of Galicia (Central Europe in 1902. From 1906 until February 1915 he was the German Assistant.

After the death of Franz Xavier Wernz, the 49-year-old Ledochowski was elected the 26th General of the Society on February 11, 1915 on the second ballot.

Despite the upheaval of the First World War, the Second World War and the economic Great Depression, the Society increased during Ledochowski's term. He called the 27th General Congregation to take place at the Germanico to acquaint the Society with the new code of Canon law (published in 1917) and to bring the Jesuit Constitutions into line with it. He called another Congregation (the 28th)—between March 12 and May 9, 1937—in order for the delegates to appoint a Vicar general as he was now feeling the effects of age and needed competent assistance. He established the Oriental Institute and the Russian College as well as the Institutum Biblicum of the Pontifical Gregorian University. He saw a certain emancipation of the Society after the Lateran treaties between the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian Government was ratified. Property was returned to the Society making it possible for the Jesuits to build a new Pontifical Gregorian University building transferring from the Palazzo Borgomeo on via del Seminario to Piazza Pilotta within a few paces of the Quirinal Palace. He then built the new Curia Generalis in the rione of Borgo (rione of Rome, on property acquired from the Vatican City on Borgo Santo Spirito--about a hundred meters from Saint Peter's Square. The Concordat, somewhat engineered by a Jesuit, Father Tacchi-Venturi, put new life into the Society and its property increased with its influence and reputation.

Ledochowski's Generalate was one of the most productive, physically as well as spiritually, certainly since the restoration. Ledochowski also saw the beginnings of the Second World War and was torn by the sufferings of his Jesuit sons on both sides, especially of the Jesuits persecuted by German occupiers in his native Second Polish Republic during the first three years of the war. According to a premature obituary in The New York Times, dated December 10, 1942:

Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, who met Father Ledochowski in 1930, wrote later that "everyone in Rome I was told that Father Ledochowski would rank as one of the two or three greatest heads of the Jesuit Order," an estimate which would group him with such men as Ignatius Loyola, the first [Jesuit] general, Francisco Borgia, the third, and [Claudius] Aquaviva, the fifth.

According to Malachi Martin, in The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church at page 221:

It was during the twenty-seven year Generalate of Father Wlodzimierz Ledochowski (1915-1942) that the traditional character of the Society received the firmest stamp and clearest definition since the Generalate of Claudio Acquaviva in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One might even say that Ledochowski insisted on fidelity to the structure of Jesuit obedience, was an almost merciless disciplinarian,and maintained a stream of instructions flowing out to the whole Society about every detail of Jesuit life and Ignatian ideals. He know exactly what Jesuits should be according to the Society’s Constitutions and traditions; and under strong hands of two quite authoritarian Popes, Pius XI and Pius XII, he reestablished the close ties that had once linked papacy and Jesuit Generalate. Ledochowski, in fact, gave renewed meaning to that old Roman nickname of the Jesuit Father General, “the Black Pope. Just as Pius XII can be described as the last of the great Roman Popes, so Ledochowski can be called the last of the great Roman Generals of the Jesuits.

There seemed, indeed, during those years of Ledochowski, Pope Pius XI, and Pius XII, no real limit to what both Jesuitism and overall Roman Catholicism could achieve. Even – especially, we should say – in the afterglow of Ledochowski’s long reign and into the Generalate of his successor, Belgian Jean-Baptise Janssens, the magic power of momentum seemed to continue.

He died in Rome. After his funeral in the Church of the Gesù his remains were interred in the Society's mausoleum at Campo di Verano cemetery on the eastern edge of Rome.

Preceded by
Franz Xavier Wernz
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Succeeded by
Jean-Baptiste Janssens

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