St Ignatius the fundraiser

POST BY JHellings

St Ignatius receiving alms from London merchants by Albert Chevallier-Tayler
St Ignatius receiving alms from London merchants by Albert Chevallier-Tayler

For nearly 500 years the work of the Jesuits at the frontiers of the church has been powered by gifts and bequests from faithful, generous and visionary people.  These supporters are an integral part of the Jesuits’ long history of service to the church.

St Ignatius was a skilled fundraiser who honoured the donors who enabled the Society of Jesus to grow and thrive so quickly in his lifetime. His only trip to Britain was in search of funds, and he rejoiced to find great generosity here.

St Ignatius is famous as the most prolific correspondent of the sixteenth century.  Over 800 of his surviving letters are about finances, fundraising and appeals.  He insisted that Jesuits write to him regularly so that he in turn could share these letters with the Society’s supporters:

“many friends wish to see [your letters] and find a great deal of delight in them.  If we don’t show them letters we estrange them,” 

He also insisted letters were well written and presented:  “If we show a disorderly letter they are dis-edified”  !

St Ignatius learned a lot from entrepreneurs.  While he disapproved of those who laboured only for financial reward, he grew increasingly to admire their hard work, single-mindedness, and skill in managing products, markets and finance to maximise returns and avoid wasting hard-earned resource.   He understood that donors need to know their gifts are used wisely.  He wanted his Jesuits to adopt these methods both of management and communications, and sometimes chastised them with the example set by hardworking tradespeople.

St Ignatius truly honoured and respected those who supported him.  He would make great efforts to return the kindness of his friends and allies whenever it was in his power.  His correspondence is full of instructions to Jesuits to this end.  Finally, St Ignatius was punctilious about expressing gratitude, not just to God through the daily examen prayer, but to all benefactors and supporters

Ingratitude is the most abominable of sins and should be detested in the eyes of our Creator – it is the cause of all sins and misfortunes

The Society’s Constitutions require every Jesuit priest to offer at least one mass per month for benefactors. 

Today Jesuits and their co-workers strive to follow in St Ignatius’ footsteps in many ways – not least in his example to honour and give thanks to their donors and volunteers.  We give especial thanks to God for all our loving supporters who have gone before us, sharing their great gifts so that we could be spiritually enriched.

By Jane Hellings

Image: St Ignatius receives alms from London merchants painted 1904  by Albert Chevallier-Tayler (1862-1925) from the St Ignatius Chapel of the Church of the Sacred Heart, Wimbledon

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