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Very Rev. Wlodimir (or Włodzimierz) Ledóchowski, S.J. (7 October 1866 – 13 December 1942) was the twenty-sixth Superior-General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he was a member of the Southern Polish Province of the Jesuits. Prior to the priesthood, he worked for a time as a page in the Habsburg Court. He became Superior General of the Jesuits in 1915, during the First World War, and went on to serve through the Great Depression, and the outbreak of World War Two.
He was a son of Count Antoni Halka Ledóchowski and Countess Josephine Salis-Zizers. He was born in the manor house built by his father in Loosdorf, near St. Pölten (Lower Austria). His uncle was Mieczysław Halka Ledóchowski, and his sisters included Saint Ursula Ledóchowska, and Blessed Maria Teresia Ledóchowska. His brother, Ignacy Kazimierz Ledóchowski, was a General in the Polish Army.
He studied at the Theresianum in Vienna and for a time was page to the Empress. He studied Law at the University of Kraków and then began studies for the secular priesthood. While attending the Gregorian University, he decided to become a Jesuit and entered the Society in 1889. Five years later he was ordained a Jesuit priest. At first he took to writing, but was soon made Superior of the Jesuit residence in Kraków, then, Rector of the College. He became the Polish Vice-Provincial in 1901 and Provincial of Galicia in 1902. From 1906 until February 1915 he was the German Assistant.
Superior-General of the Jesuits
Despite the upheaval of the First World War, the Second World War and the economic Depression of the 1930s, the Society increased during Ledóchowski's term. He called the 27th General Congregation to take place at the Germanico to acquaint the Society with the new code of Canon law (published in 1917) and to bring the Jesuit Constitutions into line with it. He called another Congregation (the 28th)— between 12 March and 9 May 1937 – in order for the delegates to appoint a Vicar general as he was now feeling the effects of age and needed competent assistance.
He established the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Pontifical Russian College as well as the Institutum Biblicum of the Gregorian University. He saw a certain emancipation of the Society after the Concordat between the Church and the Italian Government was ratified. Property was returned to the Society making it possible for the Jesuits to build a new Gregorian University building transferring from the Palazzo Borgomeo on via del Seminario to Piazza Pilotta within a few paces of the Quirinal Palace. He then built the new Curia Generalis in the rione of Borgo, on property acquired from the Vatican on Borgo Santo Spirito, about a hundred meters from St. Peter's Square. The Concordat is credited with giving new life to the Society of Jesus, whose property increased with its influence and reputation.
According to Jesuit historian Vincent A. Lapomarda, there was "no doubt" about Ledochowski's concern to thwart the Germans in Europe once they had invaded Poland, "Even if he had at one time entertained, as alleged by one historian, the conception of a union of a Catholic bloc in Europe against the Communists in the East and the Protestants in the West, events had dramatically altered that vision." Ledochowski accurately surmised Hitler's perfidious nature, and predicted the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and he used the Jesuit-run Vatican Radio service to broadcast condemnations of Nazi crimes in Poland, which led to German Government protests, and assisted underground resistance movements in occupied Europe. The Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland was particularly severe and Lapomarda writes that Ledochowski helped "stiffen the general attitude of the Jesuits against the Nazis" and Vatican Radio, run by the Jesuit Filippo Soccorsi, and spoke out against Nazi oppression - particularly with regard to Poland, and to Vichy-French anti-Semitism.
According to David Kertzer's 2014 book entitled The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, during the rise of Fascism in Italy under Mussolini, Ledochowski exhibited strong anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist tendencies. Kertzer writes that Ledochowski worked to promote anti-Semitism in the Vatican and to align the Vatican with Italy's and Germany's racist and expansionist ambitions. "The Jesuit leader [Ledochowski] made no secret of his enthusiasm for the Fascist regime. From the time when Mussolini came to power, he [Ledochowski] had done what he could to stamp out Church opposition to the Duce" [David Kertzer, "The Pope and Mussolini" Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 235.]. Kertzer further states that: "...[I]n early 1936, the Italian ambassador told Ledochowski that Mussolini wanted America [the US Jesuit magazine] anti-Fascist editor fired and a pro-Fascist editor put in his place...Ledochowski accommodated him readily...Soon a new editor was in place, suitably enthusiastic about the Fascist cause" [Kertzer p. 235]. Furthermore, "Pignatti [the Italian ambassador] remarked that Italy's enemies were the Church's enemies. Ledochowski agreed. The attacks on Mussolini for waging war in Ethiopia, he [Ledochowski] replied were simply a "pretext from which international Judaism is profiting in order to advance its attack on western civilization'. [Kertzer p. 235]
Kertzer writes that there is evidence that Ledochowski personally intervened to water down an encyclical against racism that was being prepared for the Pope by a fellow Jesuit, the American John LaFarge. As Kertzer says: "Ledochowski viewed the Jews as enemies of the Church and of European civilization, and he would do all he could to prevent the Pope from slowing the anti-Semitic wave that was sweeping Europe". [Kertzer p. 289]. Kertzer documents many other instances in which Ledochowski, and the Jesuit order which he headed, led and manipulated the Vatican and the Church into supporting Mussolini and the infamous racial laws against the Jews. [Kertzer pp. 304ff. and Index p. 542-543]
According to a slightly premature obituary in The New York Times, dated 10 December 1942 (three days before he actually died):
- Dr Nicholas Murray Butler, who met Father Ledóchowski in 1930, wrote later that "... in Rome I was told that Father Ledóchowski would rank as one of the two or three greatest heads of the Jesuit Order," an estimate which would group him with such men as Ignatius Loyola, the first [Jesuit] general, Francisco Borgia, the third, and [Claudius] Aquaviva, the fifth.'"
Wlodimir Ledóchowski died in Rome on 13 December 1942, aged 76. After his funeral in the Church of the Gesù his remains were interred in the Society's mausoleum at Campo Verano on the eastern edge of Rome.
- Ledóchowski Ledóchowski family overview
- Ursula Ledóchowska The canonized sister of Wladimir Ledóchowski
- Maria Teresia Ledóchowska The beatified sister of Wladimir Ledóchowski
- Igor Ledóchowski A present-day nephew of Wladimir Ledóchowski
- Michel d'Herbigny
- Vincent A. Lapomarda; The Jesuits and the Third Reich; 2nd Edn, Edwin Mellen Press; 2005; p. 145
- Valeria Bielak, "The servant of God – Mary Theresa Countess Ledóchowska", 2nd ed., revised and amplified the author, published by the Sodality of St. Peter Claver, Saint Paul, Minnesota,1944, p. 4
- Vincent A. Lapomarda; The Jesuits and the Third Reich; 2nd Edn, Edwin Mellen Press; 2005; p.145-6
- Vincent A. Lapomarda; The Jesuits and the Third Reich; 2nd Edn, Edwin Mellen Press; 2005; pp. 266-267
- Kertzer, David I. (2014). The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. Oxford University Press.
Franz Xavier Wernz
|Superior General of the Society of Jesus