The Jesuit Irish Mission: A Calendar of Correspondence, 1566–1752

As part of the bicentenary commemorations of the restoration of the Society of Jesus in Ireland in 2014, Vera Moynes, archivist, was commissioned to create a calendar of thousands of documents exchanged between the Jesuit Curia and superiors of the Jesuit Irish missions.

The first part of her work has been published: ‘The Jesuit Irish Mission: A Calendar of Correspondence, 1566–1752’ (the sixteenth volume in the series Subsidia ad Historiam Societatis Iesu by Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu), and provides a unique view of the first Jesuits in Ireland, during the Irish Mission of the 16th to 18th century.  It contains précis of copy letters from Rome, letters from Ireland to Rome, lists of Jesuits and faculties granted to them, appendices, bibliography and an index.  These documents, preserved in Jesuit archives in Dublin and Rome, give evidence of Irish Jesuit ministries, administration, persecution, communications, and ‘shifting alliances of friends and foes at times of war, and the diplomacy and flexibility required to direct Jesuits in the field’.  What the calendar provides is ‘a window onto life in Ireland and onto Irish connections with the continent in the dramatic religious and political environments of early-modern Europe’.  Its key purpose is ‘to open up sources which so far have received little historiographical attention’ except from a few distinguished historians. The Jesuit Irish Mission: A Calendar of Correspondence, 1566–1752, edited by Vera Moynes. 2017. XXXVIII+654 p. (Subsidia Series, Volume 16). ISBN 978 88 7041 416 5. € 60. To order a copy, please write to:[email protected]

Vera is interviewed here about this project. Below is the first of seven blog posts on the calendar.

Irish Jesuit Documents in Rome – Blog 1, 02 July 2013

What is this project? A calendar of papers relating to the early Irish Jesuit missions, stretching from the middle of the second Irish mission in 1577 up until Clement XIV’s brief of suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773. The papers are mainly at the Jesuit archives in Rome (Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu) but thanks to digital copies, the calendar will be compiled in Dublin.

The Society of Jesus in Ireland goes back to a short reconnaissance visit to Ulster by two papal legates in 1542, and a second mission led by Limerickman David Wolfe which lasted just over twenty years (1561-1580s). We don’t have more than ten documents from the 16th century, but the record becomes much more comprehensive for the so-called third mission in Ireland (1598-1774). This mission proved to be more permanent than the previous ones – by this time more Irishmen had been trained and became available for joining the mission, and the order kept a presence in Ireland despite phases of severe persecution that erupted here and there during this period.

Why look for documents in Rome? As goes for many other countries where the order was active, during the period of suppression (1773-1814) many documents then in Ireland went astray, or got lost, if they were not even destroyed for fear of confiscation or to avoid suspicion. The Irish Jesuit Archives hold only 167 manuscript letters from the missions (Mss A, 1577 to 1714), a very small amount for 147 years, considering the vast amount of writing that members of the Society were expected to do: Ignatius and his early companions, in writing the order’s Constitutions (ch.VIII), made it clear that letters and other documents were to help uniting its members “among themselves and with their head”. These 167 documents are only here, however, because they were given over by the Roman archives, maybe as a gift. Therefore, the Roman archives are the backbone of any researches on Irish Jesuits.

Precise instructions were given to all Jesuits on the missions to write to their superiors at home, and to those in Rome, for the dual purpose of information and inspiration. With that in mind, every Irish superior, and most of the Jesuits working around the country, kept a steady stream of letters and reports going to Rome – against the odds of enforced secrecy and the peril of long-distance communications. Also, the General Superior in Rome (or rather, his secretaries) kept copies of outgoing letters, and these are priceless for the history of the Irish mission.