Skip to main content
Historical Archives
Jesuits - Euro-Mediterranean Province
Historical Archives Curiosities and news Jesuits and recycled paper

Jesuits and recycled paper

Incarto del burro

The care for creation is currently one of the most important themes in the apostolic activity of the Jesuits, but the attention on saving and consumption has always played a major role the life of the religious. Today we will discover two examples of paper recycling and reuse, one dating back some eighty years, another even to the seventeenth century.

Those were difficult times after World War II: the cost of paper and the difficulty in finding quality reams must have sharpened the wits of one of the Provincials of the time.

It is 1946, in Turin, and the Provincial has just made his annual canonical visit to his residence in Cagliari. As he does every year, he sits down to write a brief report to the General, and he also has to keep a copy for himself, from which he can draw information to write to the superior in Cagliari. The brother will be given the memorial of the visit for any suggestions or warnings for the benefit of the whole community.

A letter to write, little paper available

Perhaps he had already used a ‘good’ sheet of paper for the letter to Fr General, we do not know whether his supply had run out in the meantime or whether he preferred to economise on the best paper and his eye fell on a sheet, but the Provincial writes his report on paper with which a stick of butter was wrapped.

The document has no stains or haloes but the paper is thicker than the others, it feels almost wax-like to the touch, it was probably cut from a larger sheet and is one of the ends that were perhaps folded and not directly in contact with the raw material.

We discover its provenance by turning the document over, on one side a memorial of the visit, on the other an advertisement of the company.

The photo accompanying today’s in-depth study shows us just such a red ink image of a cow silhouetted against a wooded background is still proudly displayed on the paper, despite the fact that a good 77 years have passed since it was produced.

The inscription underneath reads:

Latteria G. Elia Piazza, Piazza Umberto 1, Chieri

“Guaranteed pure cream butter Grams 500”.

We cannot rule out the possibility that the cutout was the result of a practice, given the difficulties after the Second World War.

Saints recycle too

Perhaps the Provincial did not know it, but one of his brethren who had lived centuries earlier and also become a saint in the meantime, also had the habit of recycling.

Paper between the 17th and 18th centuries was certainly more expensive than today, the preserve of the few. Often only a few lines were filled in for missives and most of the paper remained unused.

A real waste, this Jesuit must have thought. He started to cut out all the blank parts from the missives he received, used them for his letters and notes, and if he needed more space he would join two ‘recycled’ pieces together to make a larger sheet.

When he had finished cutting out the blank parts, he would even go so far as to reuse the letter by turning it over and writing spiritual notes, homilies and texts of his sermons on it. He must have had fewer scruples than the Provincial of Turin must have had in the mid 20th century.

It is thanks to this habit of his that we today, besides being able to study his writings, can know the names of some of his correspondents and reconstruct scraps of the communications he received.

That Jesuit was St Francis de Geronimo.

Maria Macchi