A little-known day of Jesuit thanksgiving was celebrated on March 12 to mark the canonizations of two of the most famous Jesuits: St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. Every year on that date, each Jesuit offers a special prayer or Mass of Thanksgiving for the gift of the saints’ canonizations, which occurred on March 12, 1622 — 66 years after the death of Ignatius and 70 years after the death of Xavier.
The founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius lived most of his priestly life in a small room in Rome, directing the newly founded Society. Francis Xavier, one of the Society’s most well-known missionaries, lived most of his Jesuit life traveling around Asia, preaching and baptizing.
Pope Gregory XV was responsible for canonizing the two Jesuits, and he held religious orders in high esteem. The pope was educated by the Jesuits at the “Collegio Romano,” the university founded by Ignatius in Rome that is now known as the Gregorian University.
On the same day Ignatius and Francis Xavier were canonized, Pope Gregory XV also canonized Teresa of Avila, reformer of the Carmelites; Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorian Fathers; and Isidore of Madrid, a simple but devout farmer, now patron of farmers, peasants, day laborers and rural communities.
The grouping of these five dissimilar saints took some by surprise and illustrated that there is no mold for being holy or even for becoming a canonized saint. Pope Gregory XV was never canonized, but he did keep his connection to the Jesuit saints. The pope was buried in the Church of Saint Ignatius in Rome when he died in 1623.
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote of St. Philip Neri, his patron as an Oratorian:
But it required to live in Rome to understand what his influence really was. Nothing was too high for him, nothing too low. He taught poor begging women to use mental prayer; he took out boys to play; he protected orphans; he acted as novice-master to the children of St. Dominic. He was the teacher and director of artisans, mechanics, cashiers in banks, merchants, workers in gold, artists, men of science. He was consulted by monks, canons, lawyers, physicians, courtiers; ladies of the highest rank, convicts going to execution, engaged in their turn his solicitude and prayers. Cardinals hung about his room, and Popes asked for his miraculous aid in disease, and his ministrations in death. It was his mission to save men, not from, but in, the world. To break the haughtiness of rank, and the fastidiousness of fashion, he gave his penitents public mortifications; to draw the young from the theatres, he opened his Oratory of Sacred Music; to rescue the careless from the Carnival and its excesses, he set out in pilgrimage to the Seven Basilicas. For those who loved reading, he substituted, for the works of chivalry or the hurtful novels of the day, the true romance and the celestial poetry of the Lives of the Saints. He set one of his disciples to write history against the heretics of that age; another to treat of the Notes of the Church; a third, to undertake the Martyrs and Christian Antiquities;—for, while in the discourses and devotions of the Oratory, he prescribed the simplicity of the primitive monks, he wished his children, individually and in private, to cultivate all their gifts to the full. He, however, was, after all and in all, their true model,—the humble priest, shrinking from every kind of dignity, or post, or office, and living the greater part of day and night in prayer, in his room or upon the housetop.
And when he died, a continued stream of people, says his biographer, came to see his body, during the two days that it remained in the church, kissing his bier, touching him with their rosaries or their rings, or taking away portions of his hair, or the flowers which were strewed over him; and, among the crowd, persons of every rank and condition were heard lamenting and extolling one who was so lowly, yet so great; who had been so variously endowed, and had been the pupil of so many saintly masters; who had the breadth of view of St. Dominic, the poetry of St. Benedict, the wisdom of St. Ignatius, and all recommended by an unassuming grace and a winning tenderness which were his own.
Portrait above; Pope Gregory XV (source).