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Johann Philipp Roothaan
Twenty-first General of the Society of Jesus, b. at Amsterdam, 23 November, 1785; d. at Rome, 8 May, 1853. Originally Protestant, the Roothaan family emigrated from Frankfort to Amsterdam, where it became Catholic. Johann Philipp, the youngest of three brothers, was on account of his special talent destined for study, and, before he was sixteen, graduated from the gymnasium of his native town. Thence passing to the athenaeum illustre (high school), he continued for four years his classical studies under the celebrated Professor Jakob van Lennep with the greatest success. Confronted with the necessity of choosing his vocation, he determined to join the Society of Jesus, which still survived in White Russia and had been officially recognized hy Pius VII. In 1804 he set out for the novitiate in Dunaburg; the descriptions of his month's journey thither are very interesting. On the conclusion of his novitiate, he was, on account of his great knowledge of the classics, appointed teacher at the Jesuit gymnasium at Dunaburg (1806-9), and completely satisfied the expectations of his superiors. He had already mastered Polish; as a native of Holland, he naturally spoke also French, while the two classical languages and Hebrew were among his favorite studies. He subsequently began the higher study of philosophy and theology at Polotsk, and in 1812 was ordained priest. The following four years were spent as professor of rhetoric at Pusza — this was the stormy era of the Franco-Russian War. The joyous incident of the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pius VII also belongs to this period (1814). The other four years which preceded the banishment of the Jesuits from Russia (1820) were passed by Roothaan partly as teacher and partly in pastoral duties in Orsa. During this interval he took the final solemn vows, and could thus enter courageously on his journey into exile. This journey lasted three months, and ended in Brieg (Canton of Wallis, Switzerland). Here he again taught rhetoric for three years, besides taking zealous part in popular missions. He thrice accompanied, on his tour of visitation, the provincial of the vice-province of Switzerland, to which also belonged the Jesuit houses in Germany, Belgium, and Holland, and learned the conditions from personal examination. He was able, after a seventeen years' absence, to revisit his kindred at Amsterdam. Roothaan's subsequent appointment to the rectorship of the newly-founded college at Turin brought him to his real life's task. On the death of A. Fortis, General of the Society of Jesus, Roothaan was named his successor.
His labors as General were most fruitful in every domain for the newly-restored order. His first care was for the preservation and strengthening of the internal spirit of the Society. To this object he devoted nine of his eleven general letters. Of still greater fundamental importance than these valuable encyclicals were his labors on the new edition of the Exercises of St. Ignatius according to the original text; this edition he provided with an introduction and explanatory notes. The enlightened and renewed use of this precious work is his chief service, which alone must have rendered his name immortal in the Society. He also displayed great zeal in raising the standard of studies; having himself enjoyed such a splendid classical -education, he was able to appreciate the value of the classics for a mental training. After careful investigation and counsel, he published in 1832 the Revised Order of Studies, excellently adapted to the conditions of the time. Having thus provided for their spiritual and intellectual armor, he was also able to open up the richest fields for the activity of his brethren in the Society, namely the home and foreign missions. During his administration, the order increased twofold in the number of its members (5000) and in its apostolic activity, although it had meanwhile to suffer banishment and persecution in many places, especially in the year of revolution, 1848. The General himself had to quit Rome for two years. On his return his health was broken, his strength began to fail, and fits of weakness announced his approaching end. The characteristics of Roothaan are well expressed in the words which he himself declared the principle of his administration: "fortiter et suaviter". The same idea is expressed in the words of his biographer: "Impetuous by nature, he governed all passions by the exercise of Christian self-denial, so that a most measured moderation in all things forms his distinctive characteristic."
THYM, Levenschets Van P. Joannes Philippus Roothaan, General der Societeit van Jesus (Amsterdam, 1885), German tr. MARTIN (Ravensburg, 1898); TERWECOREN, Esquisse historique sur le T.R.P. Roothaan (Brussels, 1857).