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Ignatian Rome: Near the Gesu

Palazzo Venezia
(Venice Palace)
Location: Piazza Venezia

The Palazzo Venezia was the summer residence of the popes in the time of Ignatius, who must have been received in audience here on a number of occasions. The bull of approval of the Society --Regimini miIitantis eoclesiae (1540)-- was dated at the Palazzo Venezia; as was the brief of approval of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius-- Pastoralis officii (1548).

(5) Via del Gesu
Midway along this street -- near the Church of San Stefano del Cacco which fronts on the Via di San Stefano del Cacco -- was the second location of the Roman College (1551-1557). Here the chairs of philosophy and theology were inaugurated, Nov. 6, 1553. The first doctorate in theology was conferred Feb. 6, 1556. And here, after a triduum given by Jerome Nadal, the first ceremony of renovation of vows took place, Jan. 6, 1557. The scholastics were divided into three groups for renewing their vows at Masses celebrated by Fathers Bobadilla, Nadal and Polanco.
At the end of the Via del Gesu, turn right into the Via del Pie di Marmo (Marble Foot). Near the present-day site of the "Marble Foot" stood the two rented houses in which Ignatius placed the newly founded German College in 1552. Then in 1553, after being housed for a few months in the Palazzo dei Cesarini (Largo Argentina), the growing college was moved to a large rented house between San Stefano del Cacco and St. John's Church on the Piazza della Pigna, a house which must have almost touched the Via del Gesu.

(6) Santa Marta
(Saint Martha's House)
Location: Piazza del Collegio Romano 3
On this piazza in 1543-44, Ignatius founded a residence for penitent prostitutes. Prostitution was a significant service industry in Rome and was more or less accepted in the fifteenth century, but the advent of syphilis and the changing moral tenor led to sixteenth-century reform movements. In 1520 the Oratorio del Divino Amore had established a convent for former prostitutes, based on the earlier monastic model emphasizing a strict life of penance.
Santa Marta aimed at rehabilitation of former prostitutes and their reintegration into ordinary social life. In a sense, it was similar to what we now call "half-way houses." Among the 170 founding members of the confraternity that administered the work were 15 cardinals, seven bishops, and several ambassadors to the papal court. Leaving financial and material matters to the lay people, Ignatius provided spiritual direction.
Besides a concern for the moral well-being of the women, Ignatius also wanted to reform the Papal Court. When the mistress of the papal postmaster entered Santa Marta, the enraged postmaster began accusing the Jesuits of having their own concubines there. The accusation was serious enough that Ignatius demanded an official investigation; the result was that the Jesuits were cleared of all charges of misconduct.
In 1545 Isabel Roser, the Barcelona benefactress of Ignatius, arrived in Rome and took up the administration of the residence. With papal approval, she made the solemn profession of religious vows in the presence of Ignatius in December 1545. One year later, however, he found it necessary to secure from the Pope a dispensation from the vows and a termination of her connection with the Society.

An historical vignete:
--Father Pedro Ribadeneira described the scene of Ignatius leading to the Residence of Saint Martha some of the women he had rescued:
"When some people told him that women like that, veterans confirmed in vice, easily go back to their former ways..., and so one ought not spend much effort to convert them, Father Ignatius responded: 'By no means. If all my efforts and concern could persuade only one of them not to sin for one night out of love for Jesus Christ, I would omit no effort whereby just for that time at least she would not offend God even though I knew that afterwards she would return again to the former ways.'"