After his Jesuit training in Lithuania – philosophy (1747–50) and theology (1753–57) at Academy of Vilnius – Czerniewiecz taught grammar and poetry in the High School of Kražiai (1750–53) before being called to Rome where he was secretary for the Polish Assistancy of the Society of Jesus (1759–68). This is where he got familiarized with the government of the society. He returned to his country where he was made rector of the Jesuit College in Polatsk (now in Belarus) in 1770.
After the suppression of the Society of Jesus
The brief of Clement XIV suppressing the society (July 1773) could not be promulgated in the Jesuit houses of White Russia (Belarus), as the Czarina Catherina the II of Russia, a non-Catholic, forbade it. She has no wish to see the Jesuits leaving their schools. There were at that time 201 Jesuits in the Russian Empire. The Jesuits carried on their work as before. As rector of the largest community and school, Czerniewicz was a sort of "reference authority" of the group. Perplexed as to what to do, he sought in 1775 through indirect contacts, approval from the successor of Clement XIV on the papal throne, Pius VI, who rather cryptically, gave to understand that he was not displeased with the situation. Czerniewicz started then receiving Jesuits coming from other countries of Europe (1776) and soon also received permission (1779) to open a novitiate for new recruits in Polatsk.
Regional (Polish) Congregation I
As all this was rather unofficial and he had no legal authority over the Jesuits, Czerniewicz requested the local bishop (in charge of religious affairs) and Catherina II permission to call a Regional Congregation for the election of a vicar general of the society. This was granted; the Congregation met in 1782. On 17 October, Czerniewicz was elected vicar general with full authority of a superior general. The opening of the novitiate first, and then the election of a vicar general created a diplomatic crisis between Russia and the Bourbon's courts in Europe. But Catherina defended "her Jesuits" with the silent approval of Pius VI.
The vicar general
Faithful to the Constitutions of Saint Ignatius, Czerniewicz quietly prepared the rebirth of the society, entertaining correspondence with many ex-Jesuits in a number of European countries and keeping them informed of the Russian developments. His good knowledge of the Russian mentality helped him also, as well as the society, to find the right course through very difficult times. He died on 7 July 1785.
- ZALENSKI, S., Les jésuites de la Russie blanche (2 vol.), Paris, 1886.
pre-suppression (position last held de jure by Lorenzo Ricci)
|Temporary Vicar General of the Society of Jesus
1782 – 1785