The Society of Jesus (commonly called the Jesuits) was an important institution in colonial Colombia; it was notable for its profitable hacienda system and for establishing schools in remote rural regions.1 Despite the economic and social benefits the order brought to the country, authorities expelled the Jesuits in 1773. During this time, the Spanish Crown suppressed the Society throughout Spain and its colonies. Like France, Portugal, and Italy, Spain claimed the order was disloyal to the monarchy.2 At the end of the eighteenth century, the Society abandoned its missions, schools, and haciendas throughout Latin America.
During the 19th century, the relationship between the Colombian government and the order was tumultuous and chaotic. After the War of the Supremes (1839-1842), President Pedro Alcántara Herrán invited the Society of Jesus back to Colombia to help re-establish moral order and educate indigenous peoples in rural areas.3 Like many Conservatives at the time, Alcántara believed that the Liberals’ lack of moral compass and discipline had led to the War of the Supremes. The Society arrived in 1842, establishing schools and missions in Bogotá, Medellín, Popayán, Pasto, Putumayo and Caquetá. Jesuit Professors at the University of San Bartolomé in Bogota taught courses on Philosophy and Theology, as part of their charge to re-establish moral order in the country.4
However, the Society quickly developed many enemies in Colombia. The press fomented rumors and accusations against the order for its political ties and anti-liberal values. Many political figures shared these sentiments, particularly Liberals who viewed the Jesuits as allies of the Conservatives who wished to maintain the colonial ties between church and state. At the same time, many Colombian citizens supported the order for its commitment to education and social work. In 1850, President José Hilario López expelled the order as part of his anti-clerical campaign.5 López’s decision to expel the Society contributed to the 1851 Conservative rebellion, indicative of the tensions between Conservatives and Liberals over religious values.6
In 1858, Conservative President Mariano Ospina Rodríguez briefly reintroduced the order with the support of the Archbishop of Bogotá Antonio Herrán.7 However, during the Civil War (1860-1862), Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, the leader of the Liberal rebels, overthrew the Conservative government. Despite his earlier support for the Jesuits, Mosquera held a deep distrust for the Society due to its ties to his political rival Ospina Rodríguez. When he took power in 1861, he quickly expelled the Jesuits. After the death of his brother Manuel José Mosquera who served as Archbishop from 1835-1853, T.C. Mosquera became increasingly distrustful of the Catholic Church, leading to his anti-clerical campaign of the 1860’s.8
The J. León Helguera Collection contains many broadsides that relate to the Society of Jesus in the nineteenth century. Mosquera was a native of Popayán, a city in the Cauca Valley that became a refuge for the Jesuits. Many of the broadsides in the collection demonstrate support for the Jesuits by the residents of Popayán and their rejection of the expulsion of the order in both 1850 and 1861. After their expulsion, many Jesuits fled to neighboring Ecuador, close to the Cauca Valley.9 It is interesting that T.C. Mosquera, who maintained ties to Popayán, went against the wishes of his native city when he expelled the Jesuits. Mosquera’s anti-clerical campaign echoed his reformist agenda to sever Colombia’s ties to its colonial past in order to become a truly independent and liberal nation state.10
1Salcedo Martínez, Las vicisitudes de los jesuitas en Colombia; Forman, "The Jesuit Haciendas of the College of Popayán."
2Salcedo Martínez, v.
3Salcedo Martínez, iv; Bushnell, The Making of Modern Colombia, 90.
4Salcedo Martínez, 47.
5Herrera Ángel, "López, José Hilario"; Salcedo Martínez, 215,
- Bushnell, David.
- The Making of Modern Colombia : A Nation in Spite of Itself. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
- Forman, Johanna Mendelson.
- "The Jesuit Haciendas of the College of Popayán: The Evolution of the Great Estate in the Cauca Valley." Ph.D., Washington University, 1978.
- Herrera Ángel, Marta.
- "López, José Hilario." Gran enciclopedia de Colombia. Bogota; online: Círculo de Lectores; Banco de La Republica, 1991. http://www.banrepcultural.org/blaavirtual/biografias/lopejose.htm.
- Salcedo Martínez, Jorge Enrique.
- Las vicisitudes de los jesuitas en Colombia: hacia una historia de la Compañía de Jesús, 1844-1861. Bogotá: Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2014.