To Father Jean Pelletier

On Ministering to the Neighbor Rome, June 12, 1551

summary | text of letter  | footnotes

          The Jesuit college in Ferrara was opened in 1551. In mid-May of that year, Ignatius assigned eight Jesuits—three priests and five scholastics—to Ferrara, the rector of the group was Jean Pelletier.1 Within weeks of their departure from Rome, Ignatius sent Pelletier an instruction describing the Jesuit manner of proceeding with regard to ministering to the neighbor. This is one of the most complete instructions of Ignatius on this theme. The document has three parts. In the first Ignatius deals with the preservation and increase of the Society and suggests the following means: purity of intention, obedience to superiors, regular observance, preaching, study, and spiritual conversations. The second part treats the manner of giving edification to the faithful and gathering spiritual fruit, and here Ignatius lists the principal ministries to be employed in dealing with externs. The third part tells the Jesuits to show good will to the reigning prince and recommends that they secure an endowment and a site for a house. This instruction, written in Italian [Ep. 3:542-550] was also sent to the newly established colleges in Modena, Florence, and Naples.


Instruction on the Way of Proceeding

          There are three objectives you should keep in mind. One is the preservation and increase of the Society in spirit, learning, and numbers. The second is that we should look to the edification of the city and seek spiritual fruit in it. The third is to consolidate and increase the temporalities of the new college, so that our Lord will be better served in the first and second objectives.


          The first objective, which regards membership in the Society, is something of a foundation for the others, because the better the workers are, the more suitable they will be to be accepted by God as instruments for the edification of externs and the continuation of the foundation.

          1. To this end all should have a right intention, so that they will seek solely, not their own interests but the things that are Jesus Christ's [Phil. 2:21]. They should endeavor to conceive great resolves and elicit equally great desires to be true and faithful servants of God, and to render a good account of themselves in that which has been laid upon them, with a true abnegation of their own will and judgment and a total submission of themselves to God's government of them by means of holy obedience. And this, whether they are employed in important offices or in tasks of little moment. They should, as far as possible, be fervent in their prayers to obtain this grace from Him who is the giver of all good. The superior should occasionally remind them of this duty.

          2. As far as possible, the order and method of this Roman College should be followed, especially in the practice of weekly confession and Communion, in the daily examination of conscience and the hearing of Mass in the house, if they have a chapel, and if not, elsewhere if it seems expedient; in the practice of obedience and the avoidance of dealing with externs, except as the rector shall direct. The latter will decide how much responsibility is to be entrusted to each for the edification of others, without danger of loss to himself.

          3. In the community refectory there should be a daily exercise in preaching, one after the other, either at dinner or supper. This exercise may be either ex tempore or prepared, but not more than an hour should be given to its preparation. In addition to this there should be a weekly preaching in the vernacular or in Latin. For this a subject should be proposed on which one will speak without preparation. There should also be sermons in Greek. Or they may have the tones. This second item, however, may be changed and adapted to the abilities of the students.

          4. Let each one be intent on his progress in learning and in helping his companions, and give himself to study or lecturing which the rector shall indicate. Care must be taken that the lectures are accommodated to the capacity of the students. All should be well grounded in grammar and be trained in composition, the masters being careful to correct all themes. There should be some practice in discussions and debates. There should be sufficient opportunity to have all this done at home without having recourse to extern schools. Some, however, may be sent to these schools if the superior, taking all circumstances into account, should think it proper.

          5. In all these literary and spiritual associations they should try to win others to the life of perfection. With younger students this should be tried only with the greatest skill. Even the older among them should not be received into our schools without their parents' consent. However, should it be thought expedient to receive one of these into our house after he has firmly expressed his resolve, or to send him to Rome or elsewhere, this may be done. Discretion and the unction of the Holy Spirit will point out the best course. But in case of doubt one may, to make certain, write to the provincial or to Rome.

          6. The better to attain these ends it will be good to have some of the more advanced students carefully compose Latin discourses on some Christian virtue, such as may be seen in the list of subjects that has been drawn up, and have them declaim them publicly in everyone's presence on Sundays and feast days. Young men and others, especially those who seem to have some aptitude for the religious life, could be invited to hear them. This is a suitable way of preparing those whom the Savior is inviting to walk the road to perfection. At the very least they will be giving good example and edification, and the members of the community will be helped in the practice of letters and of virtue.


          With regard to the second objective, namely, attending to the edification and spiritual profit of the city, you should, besides helping those outside the Society with prayers and the example of modesty and virtue, make some effort to do so by means of the following external practices.

          1. Teach Latin and Greek to all who come to you, according to their native ability, and even Hebrew, and let the students exercise themselves in composition and in debating.

          2. Care should be taken to teach children their catechism on all Sundays and feast days, and even during the week, following the order of the Roman College or another that may be thought more suitable. This could be done in the house or in some convenient and nearby place, which you may judge to be better adapted for the purpose.

          3. Be very careful to have the students form good habits. If possible, see that they attend Mass daily, and they should hear a sermon on feast days when one is scheduled. They should confess once a month, and avoid all oaths as well as all blasphemous and indecent speech.

          4. If it can conveniently be done, there should be a sermon on Sundays and feast days, or one of them might explain the catechism.

          5. If it can be done, a lecture on Holy Scripture or scholastic theology should be given for priests, such as something on the sacraments or some cases of conscience.

          6. Special attention should be given to heresies, and you should be properly armed against them. Keep in mind the subjects that are most attacked by the heretics, and try to be considerate in laying bare their wounds and applying a remedy. If this much cannot be done, then their false teaching must be opposed.

          7. You should try to bring people to the sacraments of penance and Communion, and be ready to administer them.

          8. You will be able to help all with whom you deal if you make use of spiritual conversations, especially if you find your hearers disposed to benefit from them. The first week of the Exercises can be given to anyone; but the other weeks only to those whom you find suitable for the state of perfection and who truly desire to be helped.

          9. You should be careful to help prisoners and visit the prisons if you can, and you should occasionally preach and exhort them to confession and a return to God. Hear their confessions if opportunity offers.

          10. Do not forget the hospitals. Try to console and give spiritual help to the poor as far as you can. Even in these places some exhortation may be profitable, unless circumstances seem to advise otherwise.

          11. In general you should try to keep informed about the pious works in the city where you reside; and do all you possibly can to help them.

          12. Although many reasons of helping the neighbor and pious works are here proposed, discretion will be your guide in the choice you must make. It is taken for granted that you cannot do all of them, but you should never lose sight of the greater service of God, the common good, and the good name of the Society.



          The third objective deals with consolidating and increasing the temporal goods of the new college. A great help toward this will be the daily sacrifices and the special prayers which all the members of the community ought to offer for this purpose, insofar as it will be for God's glory. Moreover, the observance of what has been said in the first and second objectives will help more than any other means we could devise. But to touch on a few means belonging properly to this third objective, we suggest the following:

          1. Try to preserve and increase the prince's good will, and try to please him whenever possible according to God. Serve him in those pious works which he is especially interested in promoting, provided they do no injury to God's service. Likewise, be careful to maintain a good name, esteem, and favor with him, and speak to him in such a way that he will come to hope that the Society is disposed on its part to help the work progress, even if it usually begins in a small way, so that later it may grow rather than fail.

          2. You will also have to make an effort to win over individuals and benefactors, and talk with them about spiritual things. To help them in a special way is something quite proper and acceptable to God, with whose business we are concerned.

          3. The better to preserve your own authority in spiritual matters, you should try, if possible, to have our friends, rather than ourselves, make the requests for us and manage our temporal affairs; or let it be done in such a way that there is no appearance of greed. To avoid all such worries, it might be better to settle on a fixed amount for your support. Nothing should be said about this, except at the proper time and in the proper manner.

          4. Have a special care that, though it may not be offered at present, a good site may be offered in time that will be sufficiently large, or one which can be added to until it is large enough, for a house, a church, and a school, and if possible, not far from the center of the city.

          5. Write to us every week for help and guidance.

1 Pelletier was a Frenchman, who entered the Society in Paris in 1545. He went to Rome in 1549 and was appointed (1551) the first rector of the Roman College. After several years in Ferrara, he returned (1559) to France and died in Toulouse on January 1, 1564.