Joseph Pignatelli SJ (December 27, 1737—November 15, 1811) was a Roman Catholic priest born in Saragossa, Spain, and was responsible for the Restoration of the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. His family was of Neapolitan descent and noble lineage. After finishing his early studies in the Jesuit College of Saragossa, he entered the Society of Jesus on May 8, 1753 despite his family's opposition. On concluding his ecclesiastical studies he was ordained, and taught at Saragossa.
In 1766 the Governor of Saragossa was held responsible for the threatened famine, and so enraged was the populace against him that they were about to destroy his palace by fire. Pignatelli's persuasive power over the people averted the calamity. Despite the letter of thanks sent by Charles III the Jesuits were accused of instigating the above-mentioned riot. Pignatelli's refutation of the calumny was followed by the decree of expulsion of the Fathers of Saragossa in April 4, 1767. Minister Aranda offered to reinstate Nicola and Giuseppe Pignatelli, providing they abandon their order, but in spite of Giuseppe's ill-health they stood firm. Not permitted by Clement XIII to land at Civita Vecchia, with the other Jesuits of Aragon, he repaired to St. Boniface in Corsica where he displayed singular ability for organization in providing for five hundred fathers and students. His sister, the Duchess of Acerra, aided him with money and provisions. He organized studies and maintained regular observance.
When France assumed control of Corsica, he was obliged to return to Genoa. St. Joseph was again detailed to secure a location in the legation of Ferrara, not only for the fathers of his own province of Aragon, but also for those of Peru and Mexico, but the community was dissolved in August, 1773. The two Pignatelli brothers were then obliged to betake themselves to Bologna, where they lived in retirement (being forbidden to exercise the sacred ministry). They devoted themselves to study and Pignatelli himself collected books and manuscripts bearing on the history of the Society. On ascertaining from Pius IV that the Society of Jesus still survived in White Russia, he desired to be received there. For various reasons he was obliged to defer his departure.
During this delay St. Joseph was invited, on the instance of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, to re-establish the Society in his States; and in 1793, having obtained through Catherine II of Russia a few fathers from Russia, along with some other Jesuits the new establishment was made. On July 6, 1797, Pignatelli renewed his vows. In 1799 he was appointed master of novices in Colerno. On the death of the Duke of Parma, the States of Parma were placed under allegiance of France. Nevertheless, the Jesuits remained undisturbed for eighteen months, during which period Pignatelli was appointed Provincial of Italy. After considerable discussion he obtained the restoration of the Jesuits in Naples. The papal Brief (July 30, 1804) was much more favourable than that granted for Parma. The older Jesuits soon asked to be received back; many, however, engaged in various ecclesiastical callings, remained at their posts. Schools and a college were opened in Sicily, but when this part of the kingdom fell into Napoleon's power, the dispersion of the Jesuits were ordered; but the decree was not rigorously executed. Pignatelli founded colleges in Rome, Tivoli, and Orvieto, and the fathers were invited to other cities.
During the exile of Pius VII and the French occupation the Society continued unmolested, owing largely to the prudence and the merits of Pignatelli; he even managed to avoid the oaths of allegiance to Napoleon. He also secured the restoration of the Society in Sardinia (1807). Giuseppe Pignatelli died on November 11, 1811. The saint rests today in a reliquary under the altar of the Chapel of the Passion in the Roman Church of Il Santissimo Nome di Gesù (the ‘Gesù’). Under Pope Gregory XVI the cause of his beatification was introduced, reaching conclusion on February 12, 1933 and being followed by his canonization in June 1954.
After St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Joseph Pignatelli is arguably the most important Jesuit in the history of the Society of Jesus, linking the two Societies, the old Society which was founded officially in 1540, and the new Society which was founded forty years after the order had been suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. St. Joseph Pignatelli is thus considered the saviour and restorer of the Society of Jesus. He is known as the Apostle of the ruins of the Society of Jesus.