December 21st 1576 - Polanco Juan de
† in Rome
When in the springtime of 1547 Ignatius appointed Polanco to his secretary in Rome, he did probably not know which beneficial appointment was made by that decision. Polanco became one the closest confidants of St Ignatius.
Polanco was Spaniard, born on December 16th 1517 in Burgos, in an esteemed and wealthy noble family. Still very young he went to Paris for the sake of study, then to Rome. There his father provided for him a respected position as Scriptor apostolicus and Comes palatinus at the Vatican for 1000 ducats fine gold, so that he could afford a luxurious life. After three months he made Spiritual Exercises with Ignatius. He gave up his position and changed the splendid palace of the pope for the miserable ramshackle dwelling of the Jesuits near S. Mary dei Astalli. At the age of twenty four he joined in 1541 the Society of Jesus. His family, above all his father was shocked. It came to the breaking off his connection with the parents' house. For several years there was no correspondence. Never again he visited the dwelling of his relatives in Burgos. After a longer time it came to reconciliation. His father died in 1552 and his mother in 1564. Also his oldest brother Gregor became reconciled with him; likewise his youngest brother Ludwig, who supported the college in Florenz eagerly.
By his talents and virtues Polanco won the complete confidence of the Order's Founder, but also large influence on the internal structure of the Society of Jesus up to the fourth Generalate. In March 1547 Ignatius made him to his secretary. He, who possessed excellent suitability for this office, was nine years long, as it were, the right hand of the Order's Founder, who gave him his whole confidence. Also under the two successors of Ignatius, i.e. Diego Lainez and Francisco de Borja, Polanco remained for further seventeen years secretary - until 1573. By his skill and reliability, his erudition and knowledge of languages, his persistent working power, and his correct and loyal kind he rendered the Order invaluable services.
To the Spanish written constitutions Polanco made a Latin translation which was then examined and recognized in 1558 by the first General Congregation.
The death of Francisco de Borja on October 1st 1572 meant a large turn in the history of the Society of Jesus. The tradition that the General had to be a Spaniard was broken. A new generation made an appearance. Polanco who had been appointed Vicar General of the Order, called up the General Congregation. Pope Gregor XIII had given the instruction to the general assembly that no Spaniard should be selected. On the remonstration of a delegation led by Canisius, the Pope withdrew from the expression "demand" and maintained only the wish to select no Spaniard. The assembly selected already at the first ballot - with the close majority of 27 votes from the 47 voters - the Belgian Everard Mercurian as General. On the same day, April 23th 1573, the result was told the pope. He expressed his highest satisfaction.
The General had four assistants. One of them was the General's secretary. Polanco had held that post also under Lainez and Borja. To relieve the General, an aid was given to him, a so-called admonitor. That office too had been entrusted to Polanco during the Generalate of Lainez and Borja.
Several times Polanco was also the travel companion of the General. Thus he accompanied Ignatius in November 1552 to Naples, in 1561 Lainez to France, and Borja to Spain, Portugal and France. Again Polanco accompanied Father General Lainez to Trent. The Pope had required his presence there. Except Lainez and Polanco occasionally also the Fathers Salmeron, Canisius, and Nadal were in Trent.
Polanco was master not only as an administrative man but still more as a spiritual director. His readiness to help was not only for his brethren, but also for their relations in cases of need.
He reminded the superiors of the fact that Ignatius had already laid down that the direct correspondence between a single Jesuit and Father General had not to be controlled by his local superior.
Soon after Borja's death Polanco was replaced as secretary by Antonio Possevino. Now he found time for his literary work. A biography of Ignatius was due, and above all the completion of the "Cronicon", which means an indispensable reading for the early history of the Society of Jesus. These detailed annual reports cover the years 1537 to 1556 in six strong volumes.
The untiring activity was hard on his health. The attacks of fever increased, coughs and disturbed circulations in the legs became persistent. He was transferred to Naples. According to his experience the climate there appeased his complaints. But he felt drawn back to Rome. There he spent his last months. He died on December 21st 1576.
There is no picture of Polanco. For contemporaries and future generations he wished to remain in the shadow. The companions jokefully called Polanco 'Father Cobos', after a secretary of Karl V.
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