Jesuits in Austria - 10 June 1563
The Austrian Province of the Order was created under Father General Laynez on June 19th 1563. It took place by separating the three colleges Vienna, Prague and Tyrnau from the Upper German Province. The chief impulse to it had been given by Petrus Canisius.
About the middle of the sixteenth century the church situation in Austria was catastrophic. Not only great parts of the population in Nether and Upper Austria, in the Steiermark and Kärnten had become Protestant, but also the clergy. Three quarters of all parishes were without pastors. For twenty years there had been no ordination in Vienna. There were only two professors and about twelve students at the Catholic Faculty in Vienna. The end of the Catholic Church in Austria seemed foreseeable.
In that situation King Ferdinand I sent an urgent appeal to Ignatius and asked for assistance. Ignatius at once agreed. The re-Catholization happened unbelievably fast.
At the end of May 1551 already the first Jesuits, Father Le Jay and Father Schorich, arrived in Vienna to found there a college, and to help so to stop the apostasy. A few days after the arrival of the two mentioned Fathers was added an excellent Belgian Jesuit, Father Nicholas Delanoy from Rome, who was joined by several young Jesuits.
On March 9th 1552 also Petrus Canisius arrived in Vienna. He went by ship via Danube. The journey from Ingolstadt to Vienna took four days. Canisius was accompanied by two Novices. In his report to Ignatius he writes: "These (two novices) show that it is just as great a deed to get one German into the Society of Jesus as getting twenty Italians or Spaniards."
Preserved statistics give us impressive numbers about the unexpectedly fast and great recovery. Canisius had twelve listeners with his first sermon in the St Stephen Cathedral. Soon there were hundreds. When 1564 the College in Graz was founded, there were hardly 200 Catholics there among 12.000 inhabitants. Since 1590 the Viennese College numbered about 1000 pupils. The Sodalities of Our Lady had a deep impact on the people.
In the year 1763, shortly before the abolition of the Order, the Viennese College numbered 2000 pupils, that in Graz 1500. The Austrian Province had about 1950 members. They were active in 58 high schools and 23 colleges, five of them with university rank, and 64 churches. Add to this the missionaries who were sent by the Province to China, India and Paraguay.