Skip to main content
"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Norms for Reforming Convents of Nuns: To Father Ponce Cogordan, Rome, February 12, 1555

Ponce Cogordan was treasurer of the Roman community where Ignatius lived. When Cardinal Marcello Cervini, the future Pope Marcellus II, was looking for someone to undertake the task of reforming a community of Benedictine nuns at the Monastery of Arta Cella in Auvergne, France, he chose Cogordan. Cogordan was not only equal to the task but, since he was a native of that part of France, he would know how to deal with the nuns and people, and would not appear to them as a total stranger. Cogordan's appointment came in December 1554, and he left Rome on February 13, 1555. Before his departure Ignatius prepared this instruction in which he explains the prudence and tact needed for the mission. What Ignatius offers are broad principles and general norms; these principles will serve to regulate this new ministry that was soon to become frequent in the Society. Ignatius composed this instruction in Spanish [Ep. 8:395-397].

Manner of Proceeding

1. Master Ponce should deliver the letters to those to whom they are addressed, and try to win the confidence of those who govern the province and to whom he is carrying letters, and he should have them write to the governor of the region and to several men of influence.

2. Deliver the letters to those of that region, and, as far as you can, cultivate their friendship, especially those who are relatives of the nuns.

3. Let everyone understand, both in public and in private, that you have come for the common good, and the honor of the monastery and of all that region. Deliver the bull of appointment and have it solemnly published.

4. Begin winning their confidence by conversing with men of high birth and others on spiritual matters, and by visiting the hospitals and other pious works, if there be any.

5. Visit the nuns showing them great kindness and make them understand that the cardinal sent you for their spiritual consolation. Give them the letter, but in the beginning do not speak of reform. You should first win their trust and that of the region too.

6. During this interval you should give them sermons and have exhortations in common, and speak on spiritual topics to individuals in private, and try to learn who are the more recollected and edifying. Win some of them over to our Lord, especially the abbess and other important nuns.

7. When you have made yourself acceptable to them, and come to know the hearts of the nuns, their former life, and their mistakes, begin your reform with tact. Learn who their confessor is; if he is one who cannot be of help, advise him to stay away for a definite time (and see to it that he does). But keep away from the nuns until you yourself have spoken to him. Try to win his friendship.

8. You should learn who the friar is and who the other persons are who frequent the monastery and with whom they speak. Advise them to stay away and see that they do. Do all you can to prevent all visiting, unless you know that some may help in obtaining the desired end. Use the help and support you may find in the nuns' relatives.

9. Persuade the nuns to remain enclosed for some time for their spiritual good, and keep everyone away from the monastery.

10. Get them especially to go to confession and Communion, and be particularly careful to get some of them to make a general confession, to gain the plenary indulgence and to be an example to others.

11. Help them with their examinations of conscience and with the Spiritual Exercises, especially at the beginning, with the exercises of the first week, and teach them methods of prayer that are suitable to each one.

12. Try with tact and charity to inspire them with confidence to open their hearts and reveal their defects, and give them to understand in an unmistakable way that you are acting through charity and love and for their own good.

13. If some are hard to deal with, and are unwilling to cooperate, do not give up nor be annoyed with them. Show them rather a deep charity and a persevering wish to help them.

14. Do not resort to any coercive means with the nuns without fresh advice from us here at Rome.

15. Master Ponce is not to partake of the nuns' hospitality, nor is he to take anything by way of alms or in any other way,

16. Show no partiality, but manifest the same charity toward all.

Matters To Be Reformed

1. The nuns should observe enclosure, if possible, even though their institute does not oblige them to do so. Only rarely should they allow women, if they are of noble birth and of good name, to enter the monastery. But men, never.

2. They should lead a common life, and no one should have a servant or anything of her own.

3. They should recite the office in choir, and practice mental prayer and spiritual exercises.

4. They should confess and receive Communion every week, or every month, to a confessor of upright life and teaching&mdasha man elderly in his ways as well as in his years. He should be appointed by the cardinal, or by the bishop with the approval of the cardinal.

5. Those who exercise authority in the region should each year choose two prominent women, elderly and upright, who will undertake to help the nuns in their needs, to see that they are living as they should, whether anyone open to suspicion visits them, and everything else that has to do with the monastery.
1. Cogordan was born in Provence, France, about 1502, and was a priest when he entered the Society in Paris in 1541. In December 1550 he became treasurer of the Jesuit residence in Rome. He was back in Paris in 1560 and died there on March 21, 1582.
I. In July 1521, a 30-year-old Basque knight, named Iñigo was brought home to recuperate after his cannonball experience in the battle of Pamplona—his watershed moment. The wounds on his lower limbs led to the first long lockdown in his life, about nine months, during which he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints, the only reading matter the Loyola castle afforded. He also killed time by recalling tales of martial valor and by day-dreaming about a great lady who captured his heart. Later when he was out of mortal danger, his attention was centered on the saints. This profoundly moved and attracted him that soon after he had barely recovered he resolved to do something about his many sins. To fulfill this he must embark on a journey towards conversion. He followed the holy austerities of the saints, eg Francis of Assisi, Onuphrius of Egypt and Dominic, that God sent as his first spiritual guides in his lifelong task towards holiness.
II. "That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life… The contemplation of these mysteries, as St Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, leads us to incarnate them in our choices and attitudes" (Gaudete et Exsultate—Rejoice and Be Glad 20).

St Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens c. 1622
III. "This spiritual poverty is closely linked to what St Ignatius of Loyola calls 'holy indifference', which brings us to a radiant interior freedom: 'We need to train ourselves to be indifferent to our attitude to all created things, in all that is permitted to our free will and not forbidden’ so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest" (Gaudete et Exsultate—Rejoice and Be Glad 69).