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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1831 to 1833 > Chinese College

One of Mezzofanti's first impulses on his being established in Rome, was to turn to account, as a means of extending his store of languages, the manifold advantages of his new position. On a careful survey of the rich and varied resources supplied by the foreign ecclesiastical establishments of Rome, and especially by the great treasure-house of the Propaganda, he found that there was one language, and that a language to which he had long and anxiously looked forward—the Chinese—which was, as yet,  entirely unrepresented ; the native students destined for the mission of China, being at that time exclusively educated in the Chinese College at Naples. It happened most opportunely that at this time Monsig-nor de Bossi, (afterwards administrator Apostolic of Nankin), was about to visit that institution, and proposed to Mezzofanti to accompany him ;—a proposal which, as filling up agreeably the interval of rest which he enjoyed before entering upon the routine of the duties which awaited him, he gladly accepted.

The Chinese College of Naples was founded in 1725, by the celebrated Father Matthew Ripa,* with the permission of the reigning Pope Benedict XIII, and was formally approved by a bull of Clement XIII, April 5, 1732. In the earlier and more favoured days of the Chinese mission, although it was chiefly supplied by European clergy, yet the missionaries freely opened, not alone elementary schools, but seminaries for the training of native catechists who assisted in the work of the mission, even within the precincts of the Imperial City. But the unhappy divisions among the missionaries upon the well-known question, as to the lawfulness of the so-called " Chinese ceremonies ;" and the severe enactments which followed the final and decisive condemnation of these ceremonies by Clement XL, not only cut off all hope of this domestic supply of catechists, but effectually excluded all European missionaries from the Chinese Empire. The only hope, therefore, of sustaining the mission was to provide a supply of native clergy, who might pass unnoticed among the population, or who would at least possess one chance of security against detection, which the very appearance of a foreigner would preclude. With this view, Father Ripa brought together at Pekin a small number of youths, whom he hoped to train up under a native master, engaged by him for the purpose. A short experience of this plan, however, convinced him, not merely of its danger, but even of its absolute impracticability; and he saw that the only hope of success for such an institution would be, not only to place the establishment beyond the reach of persecution from the Chinese authorities, but, (as the great Pope Innocent III. had contemplated a college at Paris for native Greek youths),* even to withdraw the candidates altogether for a time from the contagion of domestic influences and domestic associations. Himself a Neapolitan, (having been born at Eboli, in the kingdom of Naples,) Ripa's thoughts naturally turned to his own country for the means of accomplishing his design ; and, after numberless difficulties, he succeeding in transferring to his native city, under the name of " the Holy Family of Jesus Christ," the institution which he had projected at Pekin. It consists of two branches, the college, and the congregation. The latter is an association of priests and lay brothers, (not bound, however, by religious vows), very similar in its constitution to the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. The object of their association is the care and direction of the College.

The College, on the other hand, is designed for the purpose of educating and preparing for the priesthood, or at least for the office of catechist, natives of China, Cochin China, Pegu, Tonquin, and the Indian Peninsula. They are maintained free of all cost, and are conducted to Europe and back to their native country at the charge of the congregation; merely binding themselves to devote their lives, either as priests or as catechists, to the duties of their native mission, under the direction and jurisdiction of the sacred congregation of the Propaganda. Since the time of the withdrawal of the European missionaries from China, the mission has relied mainly upon this admirable institution ; and even still its members continue to deserve well of the Church. The priest, Francis Tien, whose cruel sufferings for the faith are detailed by Mgr. Rizzolati in a letter published in the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, July 1846, was a pupil of this college. So likewise is the excellent and zealous priest, Thomas Pian, who recently volunteered his services to the Propaganda as a missionary to the Chinese immigrants in California.

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