By Doris Yu
June 30, 2014 — British Jesuit Father Tim Byron was so fascinated by the 1814 restoration of the Society of Jesus that the amateur historian created a website devoted exclusively to the event to mark its 2014 bicentennial. The Society of Jesus, founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola, was suppressed by Papal brief for 41 years from 1773 to 1814.
Fr. Byron, who hails from Liverpool and currently serves in Great Britain as chaplain at the University of Manchester and on the parish staff at a local church, says he built the site as a resource for younger Jesuits.
Complete with a timeline and links to multimedia resources, the site tells the fascinating story of the Jesuits' 41-year struggle for survival. Among the colorful cast of characters: Catherine the Great of Russia, who supported the Jesuits and was largely responsible for the order’s continued existence; and Madame de Pompadour, the beautiful mistress of Louis XV of France, who allegedly plotted against the Jesuits after having been refused absolution by a Jesuit because of her adulterous relationship with the king of France.
Fr. Byron says he is eager to spread his appreciation of the past to others. “I hope they share some of my enthusiasm for our rich history — some of the inspiring characters but also the mistakes that have been made.” He also hopes the site might serve as a resource for teachers anxious for classroom material and for priests searching for inspiring content for a Sunday homily.
The site is updated four or five times a week, and according to Fr. Byron, comments from the site’s audience have been “very positive — with more feedback from lay co-workers than Jesuits,” he says. “There is a danger that in Jesuit history we can focus on key moments such as Ignatius, the suppression or Arrupe, whereas the gaps between are often left out — so I have had a few appreciative comments as we unearth some hidden gems.”
He believes the site may have an impact on vocations, describing his own path to discernment. “When I was considering joining, I was inspired by stories of Jesuit history, such as Edmund Campion and, of course, like many Jesuits in their 30s and 40s, the film ‘The Mission’!”
After earning a master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, Fr. Byron worked in a variety of fields, including radio, hospitality management and nursing. He entered the Society in 1998 at the age of 25, taught and served as chaplain to two Jesuit schools in London, was a prison chaplain in London and Madrid and was ordained in 2007. While completing his Jesuit formation in the Philippines, Fr. Byron became fascinated with Jesuit history and began a Twitter account called “@JesuitHistory” in order to mark notable anniversaries for the Society of Jesus.