Giovanni Antonio Grassi

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Giovanni Antonio Grassi

SJ
Giovanni Antonio Grassi portrait.jpg
27th Rector of the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide
In office
1840–1842
Preceded byLiberio Figari
Succeeded byGiovanni Batta Dessi
9th President of Georgetown College
In office
1812–1817
Preceded by Francis Neale
Succeeded by Benedict Joseph Fenwick
Personal details
Born(1775-09-10)10 September 1775
Schilpario, Lombardy,
Republic of Venice
Died12 December 1849(1849-12-12) (aged 74)
Rome, Papal States
Alma mater Jesuit College in Połock

Giovanni Antonio Grassi SJ (anglicized as John Anthony Grassi; 10 September 1775 – 12 December 1849) was an Italian Catholic priest and Jesuit who led many academic and religious institutions in Europe and the United States, including Georgetown College in Washington, D.C. and the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide in Rome.

Contents

Born in the Republic of Venice, Grassi studied in Bergamo and Colorno and at the Jesuit College in Połock. He proved to be an excellent student of the natural sciences, especially mathematics and astronomy, and was appointed the rector of the Jesuit College's Institute for Nobles. In 1805, Grassi was ordered to go to Peking to replace the last remaining Jesuit missionary in China. This began a five year journey across Europe, during which Grassi spent time in London and Lisbon, but was unable to reach China. He eventually began teaching and studying at the University of Coimbra and at Stonyhurst College in England, where he also studied at the Royal Institution.

Grassi was then sent to the United States in 1810, where he eventually became the superior of the Jesuits' Maryland Mission and the president of Georgetown College in 1812. He significantly improved the school's curriculum, enrollment, and public reputation, and obtained its congressional charter. As a result, Grassi became known as Georgetown's "second founder."

Grassi left Georgetown in 1817 when Archbishop Leonard Neale sent him as his representative to the Propaganda Fide in Rome. He later moved to Turin and became the rector of the College of Nobles for 10 years. He was also a close confidant of the monarchs of the House of Savoy and the provincial superior of the Jesuits' Turin Province. In 1835, he was returned to Rome as the rector of the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide and later the Superior General's assistant for Italy.

Early life and education

Giovanni Antonio Grassi was born on 10 September 1775 in Schilpario, Lombardy, in the Republic of Venice. He studied under the Somaschi Fathers, before going to the diocesan seminary of Bergamo, where he studied theology for two years and was ordained a priest. Grassi then entered the Society of Jesus, which at the time was officially suppressed by the pope. [1] He proceeded to the Jesuit novitiate in Colorno, on 21 November 1799, [2] becoming one of the novitiate's first students. [1]

Entrance to the Jesuit College in Polock in 1800 Polacak, Jezuicki. Polatsak, Ezuitski (1800) (2).jpg
Entrance to the Jesuit College in Połock in 1800

Due to the nearly worldwide suppression of the Jesuit order, the novices at Colorno were allowed only to pronounce their simple vows. Therefore, Grassi advanced to the Jesuit College in Połock (in present-day Belarus) in 1801 to complete his priestly education, [3] while the master of novices of the Colorno novitiate, Joseph Pignatelli, assured him that he would eventually return to Italy. [4] Because Empress Catherine the Great declined to suppress the Jesuits, [lower-alpha 1] the order fled Western Europe and survived in the Russian Empire, with Połock becoming the order's center. [6] Grassi proved to be an excellent student in the natural sciences, [4] and he completed his theological studies there in 1804. He then became the rector of the college's Institute for Nobles and a teacher of higher mathematics. [7]

European voyage

Upon the completion of his education, Grassi began preparing for an assignment to minister to Armenians in Astrakhan, and was studying Armenian. [8] However, he and two others were soon summoned by the Jesuit Superior General, Gabriel Gruber, to St. Petersburg. [lower-alpha 2] On their arrival on 19 January 1805, [8] he informed them that they would be sent to replace the one remaining Jesuit missionary in China, Louis Antoine de Poirot. [7] The Superior General determined that it would be preferable for the missionaries to travel to Peking by sea, rather than by the overland route that a departing Russian delegation was taking, since all previous missions entered through those cities. [9]

The General outfitted them with new vestments and chalices for celebrating Mass, mathematical and scientific instruments, medicines, furs for the winter, and gifts to give to the people. Therefore, the trio departed by sled for Sweden, accompanied by a Swedish interpreter. [10] They set out for London, where the Superior General arranged for a ship to take them to Canton. [9] Shortly after departing, three of the party fell ill, including Grassi, and they stopped for ten days at a small town on the Russian–Swedish border, where they were attended by a doctor. They eventually reached Stockholm, Sweden on 22 March. [11] On their arrival, the Russian minister to Sweden informed them that the British would not permit them to sail out of London. [12] Therefore, the party instead left for Copenhagen, seeking to sail from there. [13] They soon discovered that there were no ships that could take them to Canton, and spent a month in Copenhagen waiting for the next ship leaving for London. [14]

Their voyage was delayed by a severe storm, [14] but they eventually reached London on 25 May. On their arrival, however, they discovered that no ships would take them to Peking. With the help of the English Jesuits, they obtained the intervention of Lord George Macartney, the former British ambassador to China, who unsuccessfully attempted to convince the directors of the East India Company to allow the Jesuits to travel on their vessels. [15]

Grassi taught at Stonyhurst College for three years. Stonyhurst College - geograph.org.uk - 1081107.jpg
Grassi taught at Stonyhurst College for three years.

Therefore, the party set sail for Lisbon, Portugal, where they believed they could secure passage to Macau. Their journey was delayed when the captain stopped in Cork, Ireland; [16] they eventually reached Lisbon on 28 September. [17] The papal nuncio to Portugal informed them that due to the Portuguese persecution of the Jesuits under the Marquis of Pombal, they would not be permitted to board a Portuguese vessel without written approval from the pope. They also studied astronomy under Count Damoiseau de Montfort. [18] In March 1806, the three were informed that the Propaganda Fide in Rome had become uneasy about their mission to China. [19] Realizing that they would be in Portugal for considerably longer, they went to the University of Coimbra in April, where they studied for two months. [20] Grassi then began tutoring the eldest son of Count Arcos in mathematics. [21]

Due to an escalation of the persecution of Christians in China, [22] the Superior General finally decided that he would no longer permit their mission. On 23 September 1807, he ordered them to go to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England, and await further instruction. [23] The voyage lasted for 40 days, because the ship had to circumvent the French fleet invading Portugal, causing the ship to run out of food and almost run out of water. [24] Finally, they arrived in Liverpool on 16 November 1807, and at Stonyhurst College on 21 December 1807. [25] At the college, Grassi taught Italian and Latin, while also studying calculus and astronomy. [25] He also studied mathematics and astronomy in London, including at the Royal Institution. [26]

American missionary

In 1810, the Superior General, Tadeusz Brzozowski, ordered Grassi to go to the United States. [27] He set sail from Liverpool on 27 August, and landed in Baltimore, Maryland, on 20 October. [28] He met with John Carroll, the Archbishop of Baltimore, and proceeded to Georgetown College in Washington, D.C. He found Baltimore "completely deserted," contrary to what a map of the city suggested; Washington was an even greater contrast to the cities of Europe he was used to, describing it as "not even one-eighth ...built up" and the Capitol unfinished. He also discovered the country was largely hostile to Catholics and especially distrustful of the Jesuits. [29]

Grassi applied for American citizenship immediately upon arriving, and became a naturalized citizen on 27 December 1815. [30] By the time he arrived at Georgetown, enrollment had dropped precipitously and the college operated on a significant deficit. [31] In his first year, he taught Italian and Spanish. [32]

Presidency of Georgetown College

Grassi was appointed the president of Georgetown College on 1 October 1812, succeeding Francis Neale. [33] He was also appointed by the Superior General as the superior of the Jesuits' Maryland Mission, to succeed Charles Neale. [34] Due to the Napoleonic Wars, the letter of his appointment did not reach Washington until June, [35] and he assumed office on 15 August. [26] John Caroll informed Grassi that the Superior General did not have authority to appoint Grassi as president and rector, as Georgetown College was not owned by the Jesuit order itself but by the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen; [lower-alpha 3] indeed, Grassi was the first president who had not been elected by the board of directors or appointed by Carroll. Nonetheless, Carroll did not oppose Grassi's assumption of leadership, and the board unanimously elected Grassi, but did not confer on him all the powers normally associated with the office. [37] The following year, he went to St. Inigoes, Maryland, to complete his retreat prior to pronouncing his final vows, where he contracted a fever that lasted for a year. [38]

Georgetown College as it appeared during Grassi's presidency Georgetown 1829.jpg
Georgetown College as it appeared during Grassi's presidency

Grassi instituted a significant reform of the faculty and curriculum, hiring talented faculty and firing those who were inferior. He also improved discipline among the students. The number of subjects taught at the college increased, and the number of enrolled students increased four-fold. [39] During his presidency, he continued to teach algebra, mensuration, and arithmetic. He also instructed students in astronomy, using instruments he had brought from Stonyhurst. [32] Grassi made by his own hand or had a Jesuit brother make wooden orreries (since the college did not have money to purchase brass ones) for displaying the motion of the planets, as well as other apparatuses to demonstrate principles of mechanics or hydraulics. He also established a museum, that housed these devices among items, which drew members of the public, including senators and congressmen. [40] Upon request, Grassi used these instruments to calculate longitude of Washington, D.C. and the timing of eclipses. [22]

Grassi also oversaw Georgetown during the British burning of Washington in the War of 1812. He maintained good relations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Andrey Yakovlevich Dashkov, who frequently visited the college, as well as with the American political leaders. [39] Though he opposed what he viewed as unbridled freedom in the United States, he approved that it was conducive to free religious practice, which was banned by some of Europe's civil governments. [30] He criticized slavery in the United States as being inconsistent with a national spirit of liberty, and considered it the country's greatest flaw; however, he wrote of how the material conditions of some slaves were superior to those of Europe's peasantry, and regarded immediate, universal emancipation as too dangerous. [41]

Following the papal restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814, [42] Grassi negotiated a concordat with Carroll's successor, Leonard Neale, regarding the division of parishes in the United States between the Jesuits and the secular clergy. [43] He also utilized the fact that the sons of several members of Congress were students at Georgetown by obtaining through the assistance of William Gaston (a Georgetown alumnus and the only Catholic member of Congress) a congressional charter for Georgetown College on 1 March 1815, [30] which raised the institution to university status. [44]

In Archbishop Carroll's estimation, Grassi had "revived the College of Ge-Town, which [had] received great improvement in the number of students and course of studies." [40] For this, Grassi has been described as Georgetown's "second founder." [45] [46] [lower-alpha 4] With this great number of students came an increase in both the religious and ethnic the diversity of students, including more Protestant, French and Irish students. [38] Overall, this led to an increase in the public reputation of Georgetown. [49] His presidency came to an end on 28 June 1817, and he was succeeded by Benedict Joseph Fenwick. [50] His term as superior of the Maryland Mission also ended, where he was replaced by Anthony Kohlmann on 10 September. [34]

Return to Europe

Representative to the Propaganda Fide

In July 1817, [51] Leonard Neale tasked Grassi with going to Rome to persuade the Propaganda Fide to reverse a previous order to reinstate several priests in Charlestown, Maryland, [52] whom Neale had removed from ministry due to a conflict over Russian Jesuits' involvement in the Jesuit plantations in White Marsh. [43] Despite the calls of Peter Kenney, the visitor to the United States on behalf of the Superior General, to return Grassi to Georgetown, he would remain in Europe for the rest of his life. [53]

His removal from the United States was lamented by many of the ecclesiastical superiors, including one Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget, who had proposed Grassi to become the Bishop of Detroit. [51] Notwithstanding initial instructions to return to the United States, [54] Grassi remained in Italy, as his physicians told him that he would not survive a voyage across the Atlantic due to a hernia. [55] While in Rome, he also successfully argued before the Propaganda Fide for the full canonical restoration of the Jesuit order in England. [56]

Confessor and provincial superior

Grassi became the socius (assistant) to the Jesuit provincial superior of Italy and procurator of the Italian province. On 17 November 1821, [22] he became the rector of the College of Nobles in Turin, a position he held until 1831. [57] He later was also rector of the college in Naples. [55] Grassi then moved to Turin, where he developed a relationship with the House of Savoy, and was appointed the confessor to King Charles Felix and Queen Maria Cristiana of Sardinia. His closeness with the royal family was such that King Charles frequently sought Grassi's advice, and died in his arms. He also was acquainted with Charles' successor, King Charles Albert, who Grassi had assisted in ascending to the throne. [58]

Grassi continued to serve as confessor to Maria Christina, for a total of 25 years. [59] On 10 May 1831, he was appointed the provincial superior of the Jesuits' Province of Turin, and rector of the College of the Holy Martyrs. Eventually, Grassi was called to Rome by the Superior General in 1835, [22] and he was made rector of the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide in 1840, replacing Liberio Figari. He held this position for two years, and was succeeded by Giovanni Batta Dessi. [60] He then served as the assistant to the Superior General for Italy from 1842 to 1849, [54] and was the archivist of the Jesuit generalate house in Rome. [57] Grassi died on 12 December 1849 in the house of Cardinal Angelo Mai in Rome. [53]

Notes

  1. At Catherine II's request, Pope Pius VII granted the Jesuits special permission to operate in Russia, despite their global suppression. [5]
  2. During the suppression of the Society of Jesus, the Superior General resided in St. Petersburg, and later in Połock. [3]
  3. The Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen of Maryland was incorporated as a civil entity by the Maryland General Assembly in 1792 in response to the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Its purpose was to preserve the property of the former Jesuits with the hope that the Society would be one day restored and the property returned under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Jesuit superior in America. [36]
  4. The original founder of Georgetown in 1789 was Bishop John Carroll. [47] Patrick Francis Healy has also been described as the university's "second founder." [48]

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Sources

Further reading

Academic offices
Preceded by
Francis Neale
9th President of Georgetown College
1812–1817
Succeeded by
Benedict Joseph Fenwick
Preceded by
Rector of the College of Nobles, Turin
1831–1835
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Liberio Figari
27th Rector of the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide
1840–1842
Succeeded by
Giovanni Batta Dessi
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Charles Neale
23rd Superior of the Jesuit Maryland Mission
1812–1817
Succeeded by
Anthony Kohlmann
Preceded by
Provincial Superior of the Jesuit Province of Turin
1831–1835
Succeeded by