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Jesuit archivists of the Roman Province

Padre Costanzo Bizzochi SJ, archivista della Provincia Romana - Archivio Storico - Provincia Euro-Mediterranea della Compagnia di Gesù

Who took care of the archival papers of the Jesuit provinces in the past? Who is responsible for the preservation of this great heritage? Today begins a series of episodes of the column devoted to Jesuits who have held the post of archivist in each of the five historical Jesuit provinces in Italy. There are five episodes in all, one for each historical province, plus a sixth dedicated to the Province of Italy, which we will publish over the course of a year.

The chronological span we will examine for each of the five provinces goes from 1814 to 1978, the year the Province of Italy was born.

Returning a name to a role

The work of the Jesuit archivists was carried out far from fame, so much so that the names of the custodians of the archives in the mid-twentieth century are known only to the older brothers. For those who carried out the work between the 19th and 20th centuries, even their names and positions have been lost. Their apostolate, however, survives in the sources. Thanks to this instalment we can contribute to a list of names of Jesuit archivists and understand something more about the assignment and its duration.

Let us start today from the Roman Province. Let us remember that in the same building, the Gesù residence in Rome, two Jesuit institutions coexisted: the Province and the General Curia, until the latter was moved to its new headquarters in Borgo S. Spirito in the 1920s.

This means that the office of archivist of the Roman Province and that of archivist of the Society coexisted for a long time in the same person.

The Nineteenth Century

Unfortunately our Archives lack a so-called “management archive”. This term is usually used to refer to the fonds produced by the historical archives often and mostly consisting of the correspondence of the historical archive from which one could reconstruct its history and that of all its managers.

It was therefore necessary to draw up a list of Jesuit archivists from the Annual Catalogue. This is the first source from which any research in the study room begins.

Our research will only consider the New Society, since our archives have no documentation of the Old.

The first Jesuit with an assignment as archivist is Fr. Joseph Silva, who in 1815 is referred to as “archiv. Societatis et biblioth.’. Officially the archivist of the Society, he lived in the Gesù residence in Rome. The Latin term for ‘archivist’ is ‘scriniarius’ or ‘tabularius’, in which case the catalogue implies that the Jesuit is responsible for both the Society’s archive and the library. These specific terms, we shall see later, never recur in this source.

After a few years, in 1820, the post passes to Fr. Vincenzo Zauli who appears in the catalogue with the posts of prefect of the archive and book censor, he is therefore responsible for the books that enter the library. He also lives in the Gesù residence. Within the same community, the scholastic Pietro Astimagno is appointed ‘custos’ of the scholastics’ library. Until a couple of years earlier, the same position had been held by Giuseppe Cernitori.

We will not mention all librarians, a position that is always present in historical catalogues. In fact, the same research that we are conducting for archivists can also be carried out for librarians using this very useful source.

The person in charge of the archive is referred to in these early catalogues as ‘prefect of the archive’, but also as ‘custos archivi’, i.e. custodian. Even today, the person in charge of the Vatican Secret Archives has the title of “prefect of the archive”, a role currently held by Monsignor Pagano.

From 1826 onwards, we can reconstruct an almost uninterrupted list of names.

P. Agostino Delacroix, custos archives, then prefect of the archives, also in the residence of the Gesù, held the post from 1826 until 1833.

His brother, Fr. Luigi Ricasoli, is prefect of the archives from 1833 and is assisted by his Jesuit brother, Nicola Arcelli, for a couple of years. From 1835 Fr. Filippo de Villefort also joined Fr. Ricasoli as prefect of the archive, but only for that year.

In 1839 Fr. Giovanni Antonio Grassi collaborates with Fr Ricasoli as his assistant for the archive. These Jesuits who help the provincial archivist are passing figures, often their appointment is for one year.

In 1844 the post of Prefect of the Archives passed to Fr Giuseppe Saverio Leziroli, until 1847 when Fr Giuseppe Boero took over, assisted by Fr Vittorio Luigi Fabriani, who also held the post of Prefect of the library, until 1867. It is the Jesuits who hold the post, until 1873.

After 1870

After this date, the catalogues seem to be more sparse in terms of information than the assignments of archivists and librarians, but this gap is the consequence of a historical contingency. After the taking of Rome in 1870 the Jesuit residences were taken over by the State. The Society on this occasion also lost a large part of its buildings and with them its library holdings, partly also its archive holdings. It therefore had to reorganise its residences and colleges.

The first residences were active after 1880. The first appointment as archivist we find is four years later and is the confirmation of a post, that of Fr Giuseppe Boero, already prefect of the archives in the past. After the taking of Rome, he lives at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

It is, however, the last year of a long career; he dies the following year.

The new archivist is Fr Ludovico Delplace, since 1885 he lives at the General Curia, which in the meantime has moved to Fiesole. This was a first division between the post of archivist of the General Curia and that of archivist of the Roman Province.

In Rome in the same year, Giovanni Battista Van Meurs worked as ‘prefect archivist of the Company’ in one of the temporary residences at 21 Piazza Margana. At the same time, he was also a reader and archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives; in later years, he settled in the Germanic-Hungarian College.

There are no mentions for this archivist role between about 1890 and the 1920s. This of course does not mean that there was no one in charge of the custody and maintenance of the archives. However, we can only speculate on the absence of this information.

In order to better understand the reason for this gap, further research is needed.

One of the reasons could be related to the history of the palace housing the Gesù residence.

This in fact had been confiscated by the Italian state and would only be returned after 1924, in different stages that would last several years. This might explain why the first mention of the provincial Jesuit, after these years of silence, is precisely in 1925.

Archivists in individual communities

In this period, however, we find some references to archivists in individual communities. These are therefore not archivists of provinces, but archivists who take care of the “home” archives of the community in which they live.

In 1887, for example, Fr Giuseppe Oreglia was re-appointed archivist at “Civiltà Cattolica”, a post he had already held in the past, according to the catalogues.

In 1891, again at Villa Malta, Fr. Carlo Giuseppe Rinaldi was appointed Prefect of the Archives. He was then replaced by Fr. Eugenio Polidori. A very alternating role, since in 1893 it is filled by an even different Jesuit: Fr. Salvatore Brandi. He remained in office for a few years, to be replaced in the early 20th century by Fr. Gaspare Marii.

From 1911 we find the position of archivist for Fr. Ladislao Szczepanski, at the College of Professors in the Biblical Institute.

Going back a few decades, in 1857 we also find an archivist in the Writers’ House ‘S. Pietro’: Fr. Giuseppe Brunengo, prefect of the archives and library. In 1868 he is replaced by Fr. Giuseppe Oreglia.

The following year there is a helper in the archives of the Procura Generale at the Roman College, Brother Gaspare Ceccati. These appointments cease with 1870, only Fr. Oreglia retains the post in the following years.

Fr. Busnelli is archivist at La Civiltà Cattolica from the 1920s, followed by Fr. Pietro Pirri, in the same year that Fr. Giovanni Ruwet is prefect of the archives for the Pontifical Gregorian University. Here he was later replaced by Fr Arnaldo Parenti.

In the Gesù residence, during the war, Fr Natale Fabrini was archivist.

Probably in every residence, especially the larger ones such as the Collegio Romano and the Collegio dei Nobili there was a Jesuit in charge of the proper keeping of the archive. Unfortunately, no trace of him can be found in the catalogues; further research in the archive documents will be necessary.

The 20th Century

Finally, from 1925, in the catalogue of the Roman Province, we find the archivist mentioned again. For the first time the post is given to the Socius, named “custos archivi Provincia”. It was Fr Adolfo Mariotti, assisted by Jesuit Brother Igino Pomeranzi. The same catalogue also lists the archivist of the Gesù residence in Rome, Fr. Camillo Beccari, who also looked after the community library.

With the change of the Socius there was also a change in the appointment of the archivist, who in 1931 passed to Fr. Dino Dini, still assisted by his Jesuit brother Igino Pomeranzi.

The new Socius is Fr. Michele Tandoi, again assisted by Brother Pomeranzi, the mentions of those responsible for the archives. Then Fr Giovanni Battista Ferrante, while since 1938 Pomeranzi has no longer been in charge of the archives. Then Ignazio Ruggeri during the war.

In the meantime, a series of Jesuits involved in the activities of the central archives of the Society, ARSI, of the magazine “Archivum” are mentioned. Among these the best known is Fr Lamalle, but there are a dozen or so brethren involved in this apostolate, noted in the catalogues between the 1930s and 1950s. In the post-war period Fr Alessandro Dall’Olio was a member and the last to hold the position of archivist at the same time.

The last archivists of the Roman Province

From the 1960s onwards, we have a series of Jesuits who held the office of archivist exclusively. None of them hold the office of associate but are deputed to the care of the historical archive.

The first is Fr Costanzo Bizzochi, provincial archivist from 1965 to 1975.

The catalogues tell us that he had previously been house archivist for the Massimo Institute. He was responsible for the preservation of the personal papers of Fr Giuseppe Massaruti, who died in 1958. He held the post until his death.

He was replaced by Fr Luigi Rubbi in 1976, who worked together with Fr Lorenzo Saggin in 1977.

In 1978, the year of the birth of the Province of Italy, the last archivists of the Roman Province were Fr Luigi Rubbi and his brother Mario Aldrovandi.

The post of archivist of the Roman Province, which so many Jesuits held over the course of more than 150 years, has unfortunately not left many traces in their personal files.

Only in Fr Bizzochi’s are a couple of photos showing him in an attitude he must have often had during his work. He is in fact portrayed in the act of reading a book.

For many of the Jesuit archivists listed we have no photographs, so we have chosen the one of Fr Costanzo Bizzochi at work at his desk, which may perhaps represent them all.

Fr. Costanzo Bizzochi SJ, archivist of the Roman Province - Historical Archives - Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus

The work of the archivists

The fund of the Roman Province was the only one with an inventory, typed undated and unsigned, describing the fund and the archival units. It was probably drawn up by Fr Bizzocchi himself and completed by his successors, and there are in fact pencil notes with dates dating back to the 1980s on deposits of the archival fonds.

We cannot overlook, even in this field, the role of the brothers. It is in fact, since 1833, a Jesuit brother who supports and assists the work of the archivist. Even if in the course of time this pair is not regularly maintained, we can count four brothers with the role of assistant to the archivist. Among them, brother Igino Pomeranzi was the longest holder of the position, a good twelve years.

This episode is meant to be a thank you to the work of all these Jesuits. The fruit of their work today provides the six hundred researchers who turn to our archive every year with material for their research.

In the next episode we will deal with the Neapolitan Province and its archivists.

Maria Macchi