August 19th 1914 - Francis Xaver Wernz
25. Father General
† in Rome
He originated from Rottweil (Württemberg). There he was born on December 4th 1842. Already at an age of fifteen he began on December 12th 1857 his noviciate in Gorheim. His studies in Maria Laach were briefly interrupted by his medical service on the Lothringen theatre of war. He was ordained priest in Maria Laach on May 30th 1871. Because of the Kulturkampf the Jesuits had to leave Germany in 1872. After one year education activity in the Stella in Feldkirch (Vorarlberg) and the tertianship in Exaten he came in 1874 to the scholasticate in Ditton Hall (England), to take over there after the necessary preparation the chair for Canon Law.
In the year 1882 he was appointed professor for church law at the Gregoriana in Rome, where the faculty for Canon Law had just been established. Already soon Father Wernz became a recognized authority. He was appointed counsellor of various Vatican Congregations, and as competent co-worker in the preparation of the new Canon Law book.
He was just two years Rector of the Gregoriana (1904-1906) as the XXVth General Congregation appointed him on September 8th 1906 in the third ballot XXVth General of the Society of Jesus. At that time he was at an age of sixty four.
The XXVth General Congregation was confronted with an unusual problem. Wholly unexpectedly the Pope addressed the assembled Fathers by his Cardinal Undersecretary of State Rafael Merry del Val with a letter that contained three wishes of the Pope: Unconditional obedience toward the letter about the studies sent by Pope Leo XIII to Father General Martin in July 1892; furthermore the appointment of at least two censors for the control of certain publications; and the establishment of a study centre in Japan.
Father Wernz tried to do justice to those delicate requests. Many historians mean that he succeeded in that with perfect balance.
The increase of vocations to the Society of Jesus induced Father Wernz to establish five new provinces: Canada, California, New Orleans, Mexico and Hungary. Father Wernz internally promoted the life of the Jesuit Communities, founded houses for Professed Jesuits, promoted the Sodalities of Our Lady and cared for the Sophia University in Tokyo.
The thorniest problem of his time as General was the suppression of Modernism. From there originated also the different views of him and Father Louis Billot, a French theologian from Lorraine, who had entered the Society of Jesus as priest, and lectured at the Gregoriana as professor of dogmatic from 1885 till 1911. He was counsellor and later member of the Holy Office. His appointment as cardinal in 1911 was regarded by Father Wernz as precarious. Later Billot was close to the Action Franšaise, and after its condemnation by Pope Pius XI he had to lay down his cardinalship in the year 1927. He died in 1931 in Galloro near Rome.
The last months of Father Wernz' life were clouded by the expulsion of the Jesuits from Portugal (1910), but still more by the fact that Pius X meant the General was too indulgent and rather liberal toward Modernism. In July 1914 Father Wernz sought to clarify his efforts in that matter by a letter to the Pope. There was no answer to that letter. Without doubt the Pope's distrust, shown to him in the last months of his life, was a source of unrest and concern.
Father Wernz died on August 19th 1914, a few hours before the death of Pope Pius X on August 20th.
[back to Otto Syre's SJ-Calendar]