Cappella della Congregatio Jesu is an early 20th century convent chapel at Via Nomentana 250, in the Nomentano quarter.
The history of this convent and congregation is bound up with that of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), commonly known as the "Sisters of Loreto" in English-speaking countries.
However, the Congregatio Jesu (the name is in Latin) is now a completely separate congregation. The IBVM have their own Generalate (headquarters) further up the road at Via Massaua 3.
There is massive confusion between the two congregations.
Mary Ward Edit
The history of the two congregations is complex, but derive directly from the work of the pioneering English Catholic sister Mary Ward (1585-1645). She was one of the first in the Roman Catholic Church to advocate the existence of active female religious under vows, but not enclosed and involved in social work such as education or nursing care. She took as her model the Jesuits.
Her efforts to establish this sort of life for female religious had her visiting several countries. The novelty of her ideas led to great opposition, and partly because of this no formal congregational structure was established in her lifetime. Her disciples were called "English Ladies" in the various countries in which they established themselves, a name which emphasised their status as "not proper nuns". They were also called "Jesuitesses" in the various languages because of their allegiance to Jesuit administration and spirituality, and this was a pejorative term (the Jesuits had many enemies in high places).
The opposition led to a papal suppression in 1631 when she was in Rome, but she was allowed to return to England where she died four years later. She left a group of disciples in London, which founded the famous Bar Convent in York in 1686.
Three congregations Edit
Ward's followers amounted to a secret society for the rest of the 17th century, but emerged back into public Church life as a corporate entity as the "Institute of Mary" at the start of the 18th century. They received limited papal approval in 1703, and entered a period of accelerated growth that became explosive in the 19th century. The nickname of "Sisters of Loreto" came from Mary Ward's devotion to the shrine at Loreto.
However, the complex history resulted in the formation of three separately administered congregations of the Institute of Mary, known as the Roman Branch, Irish Branch and the North American Branch.
In 1900 the three congregations agreed to change their name to the "Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary".
The Roman Branch built a huge new convent on the Via Nomentana in 1911 as their Generalate (headquarters). They used part of the grounds of the Villa Giuseppina, sharing the plot with the Ursulines (see Cappella della Casa Generalizia delle Suore Orsoline dell'Unione Romana).
"Congregatio Jesu" Edit
In 2004 there was a major re-ordering of the administration. The Irish Branch and North American Branch united under a single administration as the "Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary", but the Roman Branch became the "Congregatio Jesu". It had already formally adopted the Constitutions of the Jesuits in 2002.
The Via Nomentana Generalate became the headquarters of the re-ordered congregation, which it remains. The Bar Convent in York, England now belongs to the congregation.
The convent is a huge, blandly designed four-storey flat-roofed structure in yellow render with white architectural details. The main block has two side wings, which run back to enclose three sides of a square cloister. The frontage is much too near the busy road (somebody made a layout error back in the early 20th century or the road was widened at the expense of the convent), but is partly concealed from view by a screen of unhappy-looking pine trees.
The style could be called neo-Baroque "max-lite", and the only thing to note is that the first storey has round-headed windows while the other two storeys has rectangular ones.
If you look down the left hand side wing, you will see that the third storey has a row of three false windows. This gives away the location of the chapel here, in the second storey but extending into the third.
There is a little bell-cote or campanile on the garden end of the wing.
The chapel is a very large room, occupying the two upper storeys of the three-storey wing. It is very richly decorated in a neo-Baroque style, using polychrome stonework and stucco.
The bays are separated by Ionic pilasters, and there is a gallery over the entrance supported by columns.
The sanctuary is a shallow round-headed niche, which the original altar completely fills. The altarpiece occupies the entire space, and depicts The Assumption (Our Lady being taken into heaven by anglels).