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Formation and early career
Visconti was born in Milan, Italy. A student of the Parma Jesuit school, he joined the Society of Jesus in 1702, in spite of his family opposition. After the usual spiritual formation and Philo-Theological training, Visconti was for twenty years a teacher of Letters, and professor of Philosophy in Milan. In his spiritual ministry he was giving special attention to the strengthening of the Marian Congregations (nowadays known as the Christian life community). For three years (1732–35) he was provincial of Milan. In 1737 he was called to Rome as Assistant of Franz Retz for the Italian affairs of the Society.
At the 17th General Congregation (1751), called after the death of Franz Retz, Visconti was elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the first ballot. He inherited from his predecessor the difficult problem arising from the new boundary Treaty of Madrid (1750) between Spain and Portugal that was disrupting very seriously the life of the Paraguay reductions, in South-America. The boundary was drawn without consideration for the Guarani people who would find themselves on both sides of the new border. The local Jesuits protested to no avail; they knew also that the anticlerical (and particularly anti-Jesuit) policy of the Portuguese government (under Pombal) would soon lead to their expulsion from the Reductions passed under Portuguese control. Hence rumours that Jesuits were refusing to leave the Guaranis to their fate prompted Visconti to send a Delegate, Luis de Altamirano (a Spaniard), with a strong letter (21 July 1751) ordering them under obedience to leave the seven Reductions. (cfr the film The Mission). It is likely that Visconti, hardly one month in office, was tricked into writing this letter without being fully aware of the situation in the field.
It was also during his generalate that accusations of being involved in commercial operations were first made against Antoine de Lavalette, a French Jesuit, who was recalled from Martinique in 1753 to justify his conduct. Shortly before dying, Visconti allowed him to return to his mission, though with order to stop trading activities. This was ignored by Lavalette, and, somewhat later, when several of his ships were seized by pirates while returning to Europe, his trading company went bankrupt. This scandal - and the refusal of the French Jesuits to accept financial responsibility - gave an opportunity to the enemies of the Society of Jesus in France to begin a warfare that ended only with the expulsion of the Jesuits from France. Adding on to other problems coming from Portugal and Spain this led to further pressure on the Pope to suppress the Society worldwide.
Father Visconti died at the age of seventy-two in Rome.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
|Superior General of the Society of Jesus