Six Fascinating Jesuits You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

6 Fascinating Jesuits You've Probably Never Heard Of - text next to image of Athanasius Kircher, SJ

If you’re visiting this site, you’ve probably heard of Jesuits from St. Ignatius Loyola to Pope Francis. But how many of these fascinating Jesuits could you name?

1. A Hollywood Jesuit

Daniel Lord, SJ, was a mass-media star long before Twitter and YouTube. He wrote more than 90 books, 300 Catholic pamphlets, and countless articles, plays, and songs. But perhaps his most lasting contribution was to the movie industry. After serving as consultant to Cecil B. DeMille for his silent film, King of Kings, he drafted the first Production Code for Hollywood movies in 1929. Lord’s was the first set of moral guidelines for movie production and was the “rule book” for more than 25 years.

2. A Woman Jesuit

Mateo Montoya Sánchez, SJ, was the documented name for a Jesuit scholastic who was in reality Juana of Austria, daughter of Charles V, and the woman who ruled Spain. Years previously, at the pope’s command, Ignatius had allowed three women to become Jesuits, Isabel Roser and two of her maidservants. But this proved disastrous, and they were ultimately thrown out of the Jesuits. Juana of Austria, on the other hand, secretly lived out the rest of her short life (she died at 38) as a bona fide Jesuit—the only woman in history to do so.

3. A Famous Jesuit Painter

Brother Giuseppe Castiglione, SJ, was an Italian missionary who served as the court artist for three Chinese emperors of the 18th century. He was among the first to paint in a way that blended European and Chinese styles, creating an entirely new school of painting. The Met Museum called him, “A master of vividly naturalistic draftsmanship.” His exquisite One Hundred Horses is over eight yards long.

4. A Spiritual Director of Alcoholics Anonymous

Edward Dowling, SJ, was not himself an alcoholic, but he admired the now-famous Twelve Steps and taught about their parallels in Ignatian spirituality. Because of his close friendship with Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, Dowling was a sort of chaplain of the organization in its early days. Upon his death, Wilson wrote, “He was the greatest and most gentle soul to walk this planet.” Dowling was more self-effacing, saying that his success had come because he “just happened to be around.”

5. A Missionary Baroque Composer

Domenico Zipoli, SJ, entered the novitiate in 1716 and was immediately sent to the Jesuit missions of the Reductions in Paraguay. Though he completed his priestly studies, there was no bishop to ordain him and, sadly, he died before ever becoming a priest. As a brilliant Baroque composer, he wrote operas, Masses, and oratorios, which were taught to and performed by the Guaraní Indians. His story is one of the inspirations for the Academy Award-winning movie, The Mission.

6. The Ultimate Renaissance Jesuit

Athanasius Kircher, SJ (pictured), was known as the master of a hundred arts. He was a German scholar in Rome who explored a staggeringly diverse range of academic fields. On the one hand he enjoyed tremendous success. He was arguably the founder of Egyptology. He was one of the first to observe microbes under a microscope and among the first to declare that the plague was caused by an infectious microorganism. He invented the magnetic clock and the megaphone. On the other hand, he promoted ideas that were downright kooky, such as the existence of mermaids and of the lost land of Atlantis. He designed his invention of a Katzenklavier, a sort of piano that made sounds by pulling the tails of cats (yes, really).

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Mark Thibodeaux, SJ
Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ, has served as novice director, spiritual director, and high school campus minister for over 30 years. He has authored many popular books on prayer and spirituality, including God’s Voice Within and Reimagining the Ignatian Examen. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he serves as pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church and School.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I am an active recovering alcoholic in AA. Though I’m fairly new to Ignatian Spirituality, I am very familiar with AA Spirituality. Father Dowling’s Ignatian influence on the AA program and in “the Big Book” jumps out at me on every page of “the first 165 pages”. I am so grateful that my two roads to God are intertwined and complementary.

  2. I do remember Fr Daniel Lord! I was in the Sodality while in high school. Fr Daniel Lord was connected to “The Queen’s Work”, a Sodality magazine, I think, and he and another Jesuit {?Fr Sommers?] led the Summer School of Catholic Action: at the Palmer Hotel in Chicago.
    My biggest lesson from him was ‘mental prayer’ and the habit of discursive prayer has remained with me, the past 60+ years.

  3. Great to meet you again in this scenario FR. Mark, hope that you are doing fine and your new book is already in stores, I am waiting to hear about it and acquire my printed version. Very interesting lives of these six Jesuits. Take care.

  4. I read Father Lord’s autobiography and was impressed by his good humor and good taste in story telling and the possibilities of American film for creating dramatic and compelling stories. He also hoped that screenwriting could be included into college curriculum. He wrote in the earl days of film as a mass medium. The industry’s production code was more an industry-wide code of good practice among producers of a product for mass consumption rather than a symposium on what makes for a good film. There is somewhere a very short newsreel statement by Will Hays, formerly President Harding’s Postmaster General. “Not every film need be suitable exclusively for children,” Hays said. He and his colleagues wanted good stories but didn’t have a clue how they might be made. Father Lord saw possibilities in Chaplin and Keaton’s work. The studios, who controlled production, distribution and exhibition until after World War II, weren’t completely adverse to making good films but like real American industrialists, they wanted the money first and the healthy statement for their stockholders and owners. There is a play called “The Waldorf Conference” based on a real meeting in the late 1940s. The founders of the big studios gathered together when their control was being lost over the system they had built.

  5. This was wonderful-so many unique and fascinating exemplars!
    I’ve had the good fortune of counting as mentors and friends, a number of modern day Jesuits who are charting new paths and who have invited me (and my family) into their remarkable life journey. Blessings on them. Keep sharing these stories-they inspire! Thank you.

  6. In article on Kirchner: “He designed his invention of a Katzendlavier, a sort of piano” Probably should read Katzenclavier or perhaps Katzenklavier (with k).

    No mention of his study of the moon. Too bad, in this year (week) when we mark the moon landing

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