Today, 196 years ago, Fr Tadeus Brzozowski died, in partial exile and captivity in Belarus. He was a crucial chain in the link of Father Generals and played a crucial role in our story of the Supression and Restoration of the Society of Jesus. He was the first Pole to be elected Fr General, and he was elected more from an accident of geography. He succeeded a line of ‘vicar generals’ who governed the Society whilst it was in limbo in Russia, existing because of the reluctance of Empress Catherine to promulgate the brief of Suppression.
He was elected the 19th General of the Society on September 14th 1805 as a 56 year old Pole and would govern the Society, in unique circumstances for nearly 15 years, but they were a crucial 15 years of the Society. To use a metaphor, he became general when the Society was in Intensive Care, with very few influential friends, but many powerful enemies who were keen to disconnect the life support system. Skilfully and with commendable diplomacy he nursed the Society out of Intensive Care perhaps into a High Dependence Unit. By the time of his death, the Society of Jesus was out of immediate danger, could breathe on it own, although fragile it created space for the general who succeeded him, Fr Luigi Fortis to rebuild its muscles and start to grow again in health and stature.
An example of Brzozowski’s diplomatic skill can be seen by the way he kept Catherine close to the Society in its darkest days whilst remaining faithful, in spirit, to the desires of the Pope. Distinguishing the will of the Holy Father from the Factions in Rome and in those enemies of the Society who were motivated by hostility for theological or nationalistic reasons. Maybe history will judge him less kindly for his lack of openness to the Russian Bible Society, who were to become the chief source of opposition to the Jesuit presence in Russia. Brzozowski’s desire to remain faithful to Rome is understandable. As far as he was concerned there was a suspicion of vernacular translations of the Bible by successive Popes. This ultramontism, which may have been misinformed, led to a growing resentment of the Society in Russia and ultimately their expulsion.