- Stephen Larigaudelle Dubuisson, S.J. (1786–1864), and the Reform of the American Jesuits by Cornelius Michael Buckley, S.J.
A career-long project, this biography is a richly contextualized, perceptive, and engaging account of the double-émigré French Jesuit who played a key but little recognized role in the re-establishment of the Society of Jesus in the United States in the early national period.
Dubuisson was born on a plantation in the Saint Marc parish of Saint-Domingue in October 1786, a few years before the revolution on the island that sent racial shock waves throughout the Atlantic world. Taken to a France in the midst of its own revolution, Dubuisson’s childhood exposure to these apocalyptic events left deep psychological scars for the rest of his life. His membership, as an adolescent, in a devotional society much like the sodalities of the Jesuits sowed the seeds of his religious life and likely provided the contact for his entry into Napoleon’s Treasury Department. By 1814, he was high enough in the bureaucracy of the Tuileries to be part of the empress’s caravan that fled Paris in late March 1814 as the imperial coalition moved in for the kill of Napoleon’s empire. Eighteen months later he sailed for the United States, having settled on the Maryland Mission of the Society of Jesus as the place he would devote his life to the priestly ministry and the spreading of God’s kingdom. [End Page 952]
For the next two decades Dubuisson worked in parishes and colleges in the District of Columbia, Frederick (Maryland), and Philadelphia. In Washington, his spirited, finely tuned sermons at St. Patrick’s drew large congregations of all classes. Even more productive for the Church was his promotion of the miraculous cure of Ann Mattingly, a parishioner who had been at death’s door from cancer and other ailments. That “digitus Dei,” as Dubuisson referred to the Mattingly cure and the other wondrous healings he became associated with over the next decade and more, was a large factor in the many conversions or reclamations to the faith that were attributed to Dubuisson. Conversely, his appointments at Georgetown, including a very brief stint as rector of the institution, were a disaster. In 1826 he was sent to Rome, where he emerged as the “maker and shaper” of the Maryland Mission. Dubuisson began as the secretary to Jesuit Superior General Luigi Fortis and, more important, as his informal adviser on American affairs. For the remainder of his life, he was the Superior General’s chief American adviser, particularly after the election of Jan Roothaan in 1829. Either in America, to which he returned for six years in 1830, or Europe, where he functioned as chaplain and fund-raiser extraordinaire for the Society of Jesus in America among the royal courts and noble families, Dubuisson was probably the most influential individual in determining appointments as well as policies for the Society of Jesus in America.
But, as the author notes in his introduction, this is more than a biography. It is, as well, “an account of the reform the American Jesuits went through during [Dubuisson’s] lifetime. I have used him as a synecdoche of the elusive Ignatian way. … ” (p. xi). A hyper-orthodox ideology frames for Buckley a Jesuit spirituality rooted in a Rome-directed observance of the Institute and Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. For Buckley, the key to reform is “essentially ecclesial, the nature of the hierarchical Church under the pope in Rome and how Jesuits fit into that structure” (p. 119). In this Rome-centric view of the Church, the pope is the ultimate authority; in the limited sphere of the Society of Jesus within this ecclesiastical world, the Superior General holds a position vis-à-vis his subjects that the pontiff has over all believers. Dubuisson, in the author’s view, became the Superior...