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  • Writer's pictureLucy Vinten

Fr Forrester, a suppressed Jesuit

Three books in the Jesuit Antiquarian Book Collection have the same name written in them in the same eighteenth century handwriting – C. Forrester SFJ. These books are A/H/142, a manuscript collection of extracts taken from the Regulations of the Jesuits; A/635, a book of hours printed in 1560 with full page engravings and A/644, a copy of the Spiritual Exercises from 1635.

One of the current projects at the British Jesuit Archives is our Book Provenance Project, where we try to trace the former owners of our Antiquarian Books. We started investigating C. Forrester and the interesting times in which he lived. The second half of the eighteenth century was a terrible time to be a Jesuit – in fact it was almost impossible to be a Jesuit in many parts of Europe then, as the Society of Jesus was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773 and had been expelled from many European countries from 1759 onwards.

Charles Forrester was born in France in 1739. Like many Jesuits of that era he used more than one name, and Forrester was in fact an alias, his name being Charles Fleury. He joined the French Province of the Jesuits in 1759 at the age of 18. The Jesuits were expelled from France in 1764, but by that time Forrester seems to have been already in England, where he remained for the rest of his life. His work there included employment as private chaplain to Lady Arundell at Wardour Castle from 1788, a post he held for a quarter of a century. He had other patrons too among the English Catholic aristocracy, especially Lord Teynham, who lived at Linstead Lodge in Kent.

Forrester’s experiences of aristocratic support leading to a stable existence during the suppression are similar to those of many ex-Jesuits during those years. In Italy Jesuits with aristocratic patronage successfully led lives of academic distinction (For example Luigi Lanzi became a prominent authority on coins, gems and medallions and Carlo Francesca Gianella taught mathematics at the university of Pavia and published maths textbooks) or as librarians and secretaries (Girolamo Tiraboschi worked as librarian for the Duke of Modena, and also published a 13 volume history of the history of Italian literature). Former Jesuits continued to debate with each other and to be enthusiastic letter writers. In this way also Fr Forrester’s experiences were typical, as he had a wide circle of correspondents, and many of his letters are preserved in the British Jesuit Archive. These include a lifelong correspondence with the venerable Fr Peter Picot de Cloriviere, who had met Fr Forrester when they were both young men in the Novitiate, as well as letters to Fr Strickland and Fr Marmaduke Stone, first Provincial of the Restored English Province.

Forrester’s letter to Fr Marmaduke Stone, 1811

The initials after Forrester’s name in his books are SFJ. A Jesuit would normally have SJ after his name, signifying he is a member of the Society of Jesus. SFJ shows that Forrester was a member of a Society called the Society of the Faith of Jesus, which was one of many groups devoted to trying to keep alive the ethos and values of the Society of Jesus during the years of Suppression. The Society of the Faith of Jesus was founded by Niccolo Paccanari, a colourful character whose exploits led him to spent time as a prisoner in the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. Members of his society were sometimes known as Paccanists. The Society of the Faith of Jesus was one of the biggest of these societies, with a sophisticated organisation, quickly establishing ministries in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and England. Other similar organisations were the Society of the Sacred heart of Jesus (which merged with the Society of the Faith of Jesus in 1799), The Society of the daughters of the heart of Mary (which was founded in 1790 by Forrester’s lifelong correspondent Fr de Cloriviere), and the Society of Jesus in White Russia.

In England, the Society of Jesus was re-established as a Province in 1803, affiliated to the Jesuits in Russia, where the Society had never been suppressed due to the patronage of Catherine the Great. Fr Forrester re-joined the Society in 1805 at Wardour castle. He wrote in a letter that he was wearing a cassock of great significance at the time:

‘…the signal favour I received this morning at the foot of the altar, in the presence of the good Father Strickland. A singular circumstance had added something to my personal comfort, which was that I had on during the ceremony the last cassock which was worn by Father General Ricci, captive [in the Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome]. That relic was lent me for the purpose by my noble patron …’

Two of the books which bear Forrester’s inscription, A/635 and A/644, also have a bookplate for Stonyhurst College. Stonyhurst is a Jesuit School which had relocated from the continent to Lancashire in 1793 as a result of the French Revolution. In both cases, the bookplate was stuck into the book at the back, and upside down, and has the date 1810. Fr Forrester was still alive in 1810, and this was only 5 years after he had re-joined the Society. He probably donated his books to Stonyhurst before 1810, unless Stonyhurst used these dated bookplates for many years after 1810, always a possibility if they had had too many printed – although of course there is also the possibility that these books did not belong to Fr Forrester at all, but were always at Stonyhurst or its predecessor institutions, and that Fr Forrester merely put his name in books that were not his.

Stonyhurst bookplates, upside down at the back of the books

Fr Forrester spent much of the last 20 years of his life as chaplain to nuns, the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, who had relocated to England when they fled from Liege, another set of victims of the turmoil caused by the French Revolution, finally settling at New Hall in Essex. Forrester died at New Hall in 1825.


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