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Jan Philip Roothaan, SJ Archive

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS170

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The Jan Philip Roothaan, S.J. Archive consists of correspondence, mainly from Jan Philip Roothaan, S.J. to his family in Amsterdam. The letters are arranged in 170 folders contained in three boxes.

The letters contained in the Jan Philip Roothaan, S.J. Archive are of great interest to those investigating the personal and family life of the General of the Society of Jesus. A vast majority of the letters are from Jan Philip to his father, Mathias, and his brother, Albert, half in Dutch and half in French. The correspondence carries him through from his earliest days as a young novice to the final days of his Generalship; despite his heavy commitments towards his duties, he still managed to maintain a strong, ongoing concern for the physical, economic, and spiritual well-being of his family in Amsterdam. Jan Philip's letters are full of advice and opinions for his family members, including frequent discussions of why God sends misfortunes to the innocent and how such 'misericordia' must be endured as a part of the divine plan. In addition, however, are numerous expressions regarding his taste in architecture (bemoaning the design of a new church in The Hague), his (and the Pope's) love of fine tobacco, and his requests for books on Egyptian antiquities printed in Holland. There are also several letters from Jan Philip to his nephew, Theodoor; all of them written to a young man he may never have met but about whose spiritual and economic well-being he cared greatly. These letters form a valuable look at the personal side of Jan Philip Roothaan, S.J. Also included are several letters from Nicholas Godinot, S.J. and John B. Drach, S.J., both Jesuit Provincials, to Albert Roothaan, thanking him for his hospitality and announcing Jan's appointments as rector of the college at Turin and as General of the Society. One letter survives to Mathias Roothaan from Fr. Jean Henry, a Belgian priest who accompanied Jan Philip on the ship as he first departed Amsterdam for the Jesuit novitiate in 1804. Several letters from Mathias Roothaan to Jan Philip also appear in the collection, all written during Jan's first twenty years away from Amsterdam. It should also be stated that three letters are on loan at De Krijberg in Amsterdam and Special Collections at Georgetown University only has a photocopy and a handwritten transcription of each. Georgetown University also has a copy of the collection on microfilm, and because of the fragile nature of many of the letters it is asked that only microfilm copies of the letters be used unless special reasons for use of the originals can be shown.


  • 1804 - 1852

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

Jan Philip Roothaan was born in Amsterdam on November 23, 1785, the youngest of three sons of Mathias Egbertus Roothaan, a physician, and his wife, Mary Angela Ter Horst Roothaan. Jan Philip showed great talent as a young student, graduating from the gymnasium of Amsterdam before he was sixteen and then continuing on with great success at the Athenaeum Illustre in that city, where he studied the Classics under the well-known scholar, Professor David van Lennep. At the end of his studies, Jan Philip decided to enter the Society of Jesus, which at that time was surviving only in White Russia. In 1804 he set out for the novitiate in Dunaburg; he concluded his novitiate in 1806 and was assigned to teach at the Jesuit gymnasium in that town until 1809.

Jan Philip showed special prowess in the learning of languages, knowing Dutch and French before he arrived, as well as Classical Greek, Latin and Hebrew; he impressed his superiors by learning Polish almost immediately after his arrival in Dunaburg. He was sent on for higher study at Polotsk, where he studied Theology and Philosophy; he was ordained priest there in 1812. After this, Jan Philip spent four years as a professor of rhetoric at Pusza; these years coincided with the Franco-Russian War and with the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pope Pius VII in 1814. From 1816 to 1820, Jan Philip Roothaan, S.J. was stationed in Orsa as a teacher and performing pastoral duties. It was during this period that Jan Philip Roothaan took his final solemn vows. Roothaan next went to Brig, in the Canton of Wallis in Switzerland, where he taught rhetoric and took part in popular missions. He also was able to accompany Vice-Provincial Nicholas Godinot, S.J. on his visitations around the Province of Switzerland, which included parts of Germany, and all of Belgium and the Netherlands. This allowed Jan Philip to visit his family in Amsterdam for the first time in 17 years; it also was an excellent opportunity to impress the Provincial with his great talents as a linguist and as a manager of missions.

In 1824, Roothaan was appointed the rector of a newly-founded college in Turin- where he now was able to build an even greater reputation for himself before the Jesuit and Church leadership in Rome by first learning flawless Italian soon after arriving and then demonstrating excellent leadership skills in his new position. In July of 1829, Roothaan was named the twenty-first General of the Society of Jesus upon the death of the former General, Aloysius Fortis, S.J. Jan Philip Roothaan, S.J. is credited with strengthening the Society of Jesus in its spiritual and intellectual fronts as well as the sheer size of the Society and its activities. He edited and had distributed a new edition of the Exercises of St. Igniatius according to the original text with an extensive introduction and explanatory notes. He also sought to elevate the morale and united spirit of the Order and dedicated nine of his eleven general letters to this cause. Roothaan raised the standards of studies, publishing in 1832 the Revised Order of Studies, which emphasized the rigors of a classical education. He also expanded the activities of the Society's missions, especially the foreign missions. During his tenure, the Society doubled its membership to 5,000. He also saw the Society through many tough trials, being banished from many areas, including his own exile from Rome for two years following the unrest of 1848.


0.75 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

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Jan Philip Roothaan, SJ Archive
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057