The Jesuit Irish Mission: A calendar of correspondence 1566-1752 is now available for sale on the Messenger Publications website.
Irish Jesuit Documents in Rome: Part 4
Recently I was struck by one of the letters I calendared, because of its personal and warm tone. While it’s quite normal to find well-wishes and paternal encouragement in the letters, along with prayers, this was different: here the General Superior in Rome (still Claudio Acquaviva) writes to an Irishman in Antwerp in the second person singular. Normally, correspondents used the formal way of address in the third person: the writer talks in a sort of “pluralis maiestatis”, and the recipient is “Your Reverence”. (This is a huge source of confusion at times, for example when the writer refers to the recipient and another, properly “third person”, in the one sentence or clause!)
The man the letter is written for is Laurence Lea from Waterford, and after reading the letter I looked him up in Francis Finegan SJ’s Biographical Dictionary (1598-1773) and in the Irish lists or ‘calendars’ of Jesuits: born in 10 August 1584, he was not as young as I thought – at the time of the letter he was 29. He came to the Jesuits in 1603 via the seminary in Salamanca. After his novitiate in around 1609, he was sent to Ingolstadt (Germany) and was by 1611 described as in poor health. At the time of the letter, 31 March 1612, he is in Antwerp, also studying. We don’t have his own letter to Rome, but Acquaviva sums it up: apparently, Lea felt he was sliding back into an old illness, and thought the only remedy would be a return to Ireland and work on the mission, after first being promoted to the priesthood “in the Society in which he wishes to live and die”.
“sacerdotium in Societate in qua vivere et mori constanter optas”, Anglia 1 I f.25v
The General shows him understanding and addresses him in a kindly fashion, but Lea’s requests are not granted. He asks him not to suffer anxiety and wishes him
“that all deep melancholic trouble be taken away and followed by the desired calmness of the mind; this I wish God give you, together with a bountiful blessing of heavenly offerings.”
(“Ita spero fore ut adimatur penitus omnis melancholiae molestia, et animi optata tranquillitas consequatur, quam tibi opto a Domino Deo una cum larga coelsetium donorum benedictione.”)
The only action Acquaviva seems to have taken was to write to his provincial superior – Fr. François Florentin in Brussels- to tell him that Lea was not fit for the priesthood at this time, and that he was not able to work in the middle of a deprived people and amid dangers, and bring good results. (“neque ille is videtur qui possit utiliter laborare in illa Domini vinea in medio nationis pravae et pericolorum”).
I had to go to back to Francis Finegan’s Biographical Dictionary to see what became of Lea. We don’t know when, but at some stage he left the Society. There is a small chance that he is the same person as the Vicar General of the diocese of Waterford and Lismore (Finegan says it is possible, but he only encounters him as such in 1622). If that is so, then he did become ordained and he did return to the depravity and dangers then seen to be rampant among his people– but outside of the Society.
Mandate of Fr Donagh Mooney OFM, Kilkenny, 8th October 1616: mention of a Laurence Lea as vicar general of Waterford. (UCD, Franciscan A Collection, Wadding Papers, D.01 vol.4 pp.797-800)