The change of wind in Russia (see previous blog) leading to their expulsion from Russia by Alexander I – reminds us of the complicated tensions involved in patronage for Jesuits and anyone else for that matter. As Ignatius soon found out, although insisting on poverty and a simple life for the members of the Institute, apostolic works needed to be subsidised, and we could not just rely on day-to-day begging. From the earliest days of his time as General Ignatius would accept the support of powerful and rich patrons in order to endow the colleges in particular. These subsidies would allow free education to be given and the stable running and development of these institutions. Yet he himself would experience the tensions and vagaries of relying on the good will of patrons. This becomes a crucial question for Jesuits…. how do we remain free and not allow ourselves to be manipulated by our benefactors?
The classic case of Isabella Roser springs to mind. One of the few women to become vowed members of the Society of Jesus, Roser was from a wealthy Catalonian Family and married a rich merchant from Barcelona. She had supported Ignatius through studies and lodging in Barcelona. After she became a widow , remaining childless, she asked the Pope to place her under obedience to Ignatius. Ignatius reluctantly received Isabella and two friends as vowed members of the Society. At first the women ran St. Martha’s, the house for reformed prostitutes in Rome. In his fascinating book ‘Letters to Women’ Hugo Rahner, follows the story through the correspondence between the Ignatius and Isabella. Ignatius makes his gratitude to Isabella clear. ‘ To whom I owe more than anyone else I know in this world’ (Letter, Nov 10, 1532)
When she was admitted into vows, her substantial estate was made available for the apostolic use of the Society of Jesus. This caused a scandal in Rome, with rumours of the women being financially exploited by Ignatius. Isabella and her friends begin to take up a lot of Ignatius’s time with their scruples and quarrels. The relationship between Ignatius and Isabella starts to deteriorate, with Isabella trying to dictate more and more how the money would be spent. Ignatius gently, subtly and skilfully has to remind her about the freedom from disordered attachments that is required in the Principle and Foundation. Eventually, enough is enough; and Ignatius receives a bull from the Pope releasing the women from their vows – and the Society is released from such obligations in the future. Finally, a lawsuit is brought against the Society by Isabella through her nephew, asking for her money back. Ignatius won the case and this allowed them to part ways while remaining friends.