The Society of Jesus is delighted with the news that Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributed to Father Philip Jeningen SJ. This means that nothing more stands in the way of the beatification of the “good Father Philip”, who worked as a popular missionary in the 17th century. The Beatification of John Philip Jeningen SJ will take place on the 16th of July, 2022 at Vatican.
“It is special for us that one of our Jesuit brothers has been granted this honour,” said Provincial Fr Bernhard Bürgler SJ. “In the Ignatian Year, in which we remember the conversion of Ignatius 500 years ago, this is a grace for all of us.”
“Father Philipp Jeningen SJ lived entirely from the spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises and thereby helped many people to be renewed by the God of their lives,” says Fr Bürgler. Through simple sermons, a convincing lifestyle and Human kindness, he had a great charisma. “People felt that he believed what he said and – this was perhaps even more important – that he did not demand anything of them that he did not do himself and do in excess.”
The Provincial invites all Jesuits and the Ignatian Family to take the forthcoming beatification as an occasion for renewing our life-mission from the spirit of the Spiritual Exercises. “May the pilgrim Philip Jeningen and his missionary zeal be a model for us to set out at any time to where we can be of more service to reconciliation based on justice, faith and solidarity with the poor.”
The beatification process was initiated as early as 1945, and the so-called “heroic degree of virtue” was established in 1989. Decisive for the Pope’s placet was an “inexplicable healing” of a man from the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart from an incurable disease due to the intercessions of his relatives to Father Jeningen.
According to the letter of Rev. Arturo Sosa SJ, the Superior General of the Society on the 2 July 2022, to the whole Society, John Philip Jeningen SJ was born a day or two before his baptism, which was administered on 5 January 1642 in the cathedral of Eichstätt (Germany). His father had converted to the Catholic Church and several of his children became religious. Philip’s birth coincided with the final phase of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). His home town had been almost completely burnt down shortly before. Philip grew up in a period of fear and hardship due to the war, amidst the ruins of the destroyed city, which was only slowly rebuilt. From 1651 to 1659 he attended the Jesuit school in Eichstätt and was a member of the Marian Congregation. At the age of 14 he had already decided to join the Order but, at his parents’ request, he first studied philosophy and theology in Ingolstadt.
On 16 January 1663, at the age of 21, he entered the novitiate of the Jesuit Province of Upper Germany in Landsberg am Lech, which had been founded by St Peter Canisius in 1578. There he discovered the spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises and grew into the community of life and service with Jesus, which led him continually to seek God’s will and willingly accept it. “For the one who loves, it is in his nature to pay more attention to the call of the Beloved than to wait for his command,” Father Jeningen observed in his notes. Indeed, he lived, worked and died in the spirit of the Exercises.
As a young student of theology, and a great admirer and devotee of St Francis Xavier, he wrote his first letter to the General of the Order in 1669, asking to be sent on mission to India. He recognized this for himself as God’s will, but at the same time was ready for any ministry. More than twenty such letters of his have been preserved, testifying to his unlimited availability for missions even though he was not at all dissatisfied with his current work. In the summer of 1677 – a few months after taking his last vows – Father General Gianpaolo Oliva put him forward for the mission in Brazil, but the departure did not materialize.
His ordination to the priesthood took place in Eichstätt in 1672. During his tertianship in Altötting (1672-1673), the most famous Marian pilgrimage site in Southern Germany, he gained pastoral experience in caring for pilgrims by hearing confessions, preaching and teaching catechism. For seven years, from 1673 to 1680, Father Philip worked as a teacher in the colleges of Mindelheim and Dillingen. In 1680, he was sent to Ellwangen to take over the pastoral care of the school and collegiate church. His main task, however, became ministering to the pilgrims on the Schönenberg mountain, a pastoral centre for the whole region dating back to 1638, where the Jesuits had erected a simple wooden cross with a figure of Mary during the Thirty Years’ War, inviting people to pray there. Above the small chapel that had been built on the hill as thanksgiving for graces received, Father Jeningen succeeded in having a large baroque church built that was visible from all sides. In a letter he described his main concern as being to ‘imprint God, Jesus and the Blessed Mother in the heart of his neighbour’, to lead him out of indifference and superficiality and to help him develop the deep relationship with the Father, Jesus Christ and Our Lady that comes from the heart and moves him. His work as a confessor also served this purpose. In pastoral work inspired by the Exercises, not versatility and breadth, but depth and strength were his hallmarks. His passion for God and concern for people governed his attitude entirely. Called ‘the good Father Philip’ by the people, he wanted to comfort the afflicted, alleviate their suffering and stand by their side. His figure was familiar to everyone: a small leather cape over his shoulders, a cane in his hand, his hat never on his head but attached to his neck with a cord and hanging behind his shoulders, his shoes forever without soles, always travelling on foot, rain or shine. Through simple preaching, an authentic lifestyle and goodness of heart, people felt that he believed in what he said and – perhaps even more importantly – he did not demand anything from them that he himself was not prepared to do and that he did in overflowing measure.
Despite his great charisma, the manner of his religious life was inconspicuous and ordinary; unusual, however, was the clarity with which Father Philip did not lose sight of the goal of his life, and the strength and consistency with which he pursued it. Everything was directed towards reaching God the Father with Mary through Jesus and leading people on this path. Documents about him also speak of visions and extraordinary apparitions, which he did not glory in but which strengthened him on his path of love for God and care for his neighbour. Day after day, he let himself be led by God, proving his faithfulness especially in trials and difficulties. The words he used to repeat: “The greatest in the world is the one who loves God the most” also always applied to him.
In his epitaph, Father Jeningen is described as a “tireless missionary in and around the district of Ellwangen in four dioceses”. In fact, his work as a rural missionary was the real apostolate of his life. Many Catholics lived scattered and had no pastor of their own, even the churches and parishes, often destroyed, were in need of renovation. Father Philip travelled the country, held missions and gave retreats to priests; he cared especially for soldiers, prisoners and those condemned to death.
In spite of his precarious health, he led a very active life and, despite his many illnesses, constantly brought comfort and help to people. The Eucharist was always his food. While he was in the midst of his activities, he fell seriously ill after starting the Spiritual Exercises and died on 8 February 1704. He was buried in the Basilica of St Vitus in Ellwangen. Moves to beatify him started soon after his death. The continuing veneration of the Good Father is shown by countless stories of answered prayers, help and healings obtained through his intercession, including a healing that took place in 1985 and the Church recognized as miraculous. The deciding factor was that Father Philip remains a living example that still motivates many people today to make God’s love visible.
Although different from today, his era too was marked by the deep wounds of war and violence. When he was born, the Thirty Years’ War was in its final stages, and when he died, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) had just begun. In both wars, decisive battles were fought not far from Ellwangen. His beatification shows us that it is through people who dedicate their lives to the Gospel with all their strength, that hope and confidence enter the world. Many young pilgrims in the footsteps of Fr Jeningen continue to walk the path between Eichstätt and Ellwangen to this day.
May the coming beatification impress upon them the perseverance, courage, trust in God, openness, patience, kindness to others and the ability to endure adversity that this German missionary had. May the forthcoming beatification be an occasion for a renewal of our life and work starting from the spirit of the Spiritual Exercises. May the pilgrim Philip Jeningen with his missionary zeal be a model for us at all times wherever we can make the presence of God visible to people and where we can work towards a deeper reconciliation based on justice, faith and solidarity with the poor.
May Father Philipp Jeningen SJ continue to inspire Jesuits and their collaborators, Alumni and all our teachers and students. May the new Saint Philipp Jeningen intercede for all of us!