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Opinion

The ex-Duke’s tribute

AT RANDOM - Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, SJ -
The year 1550 was a Holy Year of Jubilee and many people went to Rome to pray at the four great basilicas. Among the pilgrims was the Duke of Gandia, former Viceroy of Catalonia (one of the few noblemen granted the title of Grandee of Spain) Don Francisco de Borja (in English Francis Borgia).

Because he was a Duke he had to travel in style. He was escorted by a retinue of 30 persons, and when they arrived in Rome they were informed that the Pope had prepared accommodations for them at the Vatican, in the luxurious apartments that had once belonged to two members of the Borgia family who had become Popes.

The Duke however courteously declined that invitation from the Pope and chose instead to lodge in the Jesuit house where the accommodations were far from luxurious and the food was meager.

This strange choice by the magnificent Duke must have seemed odd to many, but there was a secret reason for it: the Duke was secretly a Jesuit.

The reason for the secrecy was twofold. First, he did not yet have the permission of the Emperor Charles V (his relative and his sovereign) to resign his dukedom. The second reason for the secrecy was more urgent. If the Pope learned that the Duke of Gandia who was in Rome was a Jesuit, the Pope might make him a Cardinal. Both the Duke himself and Ignatius of Loyola, Superior General of the Jesuits, wanted to prevent that. Jesuits (they felt) should serve the Church as ordinary priests, not as bishops or cardinals.

When the Duke’s wife died and he asked to be admitted to be a Jesuit, Ignatius Loyola accepted him but in total secrecy.

The Duke remained in Rome for three months and then went back to Spain. When finally the Emperor’s permission was obtained, he abdicated his dukedome in favor of his eldest son. He set aside the rich robes of a Duke and put on the black cassock of a Jesuit. Since he already had a degree in theology, he was soon ordained a priest.

Being a former Duke and a Grandee, he could have chosen to offer his First Mass in any of the cathedrals of Spain. Or in any church. Instead he traveled all the way to the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, to the remote valley where the small tower-house of Loyola stood where Ignatius had been born and grown up, and where he had spent his convalescence when mortally injured in battle. There, in the little chapel of the castle, Francis Borgia celebrated his First Mass.

Ignatius of Loyola at that time was still alive. But Francis Borgia already considered him a saint. And so it was at Ignatius’s family home that Borgia wanted to offer his First Mass.

During those three months that Duke Francis stayed in Rome, he had a chance to speak with Ignatius only a few times. But he was so impressed that when he became a priest, he chose to celebrate his First Mass at the family home of Ignatius Loyola.

Perhaps this was the greatest tribute to Ignatius Loyola, that Ignatius was considered a saint while still alive, by a person who himself would attain sainthood.

Ignatius Loyola died in Rome on 31 July 1556. Today (31 July 2006) marks the 450th anniversary of that death.

BORGIA

BOTH THE DUKE

BUT FRANCIS BORGIA

DON FRANCISCO

DUKE

DUKE FRANCIS

DUKE OF GANDIA

FIRST MASS

IGNATIUS

IGNATIUS LOYOLA

IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA

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