Wlodimir Ledóchowski

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Wlodimir Ledochowski.JPG

Very Rev. Wlodimir (or Włodzimierz) Ledóchowski, S.J. (7 October 1866 – 13 December 1942) was the 26th Superior-General of the Society of Jesus.

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).[1] 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.

After the death of Franz Xavier Wernz, the 49-year-old Ledóchowski was elected the 26th General of the Society on 11 February 1915 on the second ballot.

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

During the rise of Fascism in Italy under Mussolini, Father Ledochowski exhibited strong anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist tendencies. In a 2014 book entitled "The Pope and Mussolini", David Kertzer extensively documents the role of Father Ledochowski in promoting anti-Semitism in the Vatican and aligning 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 Americas [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 Churches enemies. Ledochowski agreed. The attacks on a 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]

There is evidence that Father Ledochowski personally intervened to water down an encyclical against racism that was being prepared for the Pope by a fellow Jesuit, the American Walter 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 antiSemitic 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.'"

In fact, judging from what we know now, based on recently released documents from the Vatican, Father Ledochowski's record of anti-Semitism and pro-Fascism was an embarrassment and a black mark on the history of the Jesuit order[citation needed].


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.


  1. ^ 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

See also[edit]

Preceded by
Franz Xavier Wernz
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Succeeded by
Jean-Baptiste Janssens