Franz Xavier Wernz SJ (December 4, 1842 – August 19, 1914) was the twenty-fifth Superior General of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order). He was born in Rottweil, Württemberg (afterwards part of Germany).
Wernz was the first of the eight children of parents with deep faith and piety. From an early age he had expressed his desire to be a Jesuit, perhaps influenced by the fact that his parish church in Rottweil had been a Jesuit church before the suppression and still retained many reminders of the Society.
The paintings of many Jesuit saints and the fact that the yearly parish mission was given by Jesuits had probably helped him to make the decision.
He entered the society on December 5, 1857, made his novitiate at Gorheim near Sigmaringen, and took his first Vows on December 8, 1859.
From 1864-1868 and from 1872-1873 he was educator and teacher at Stella Matutina (Jesuit School) in Feldkirch, Austria.
He studied theology and philosophy at the Maria Laach and Aachen abbeys. When the Kulturkampf of Chancellor Bismarck expelled the Jesuits from Germany, the exiled scholastics, after a short stay at Stella Matutina, found refuge in a Jesuit college, Ditton Hall in Lancashire in England and, finally, in 1881 moved to St Beuno’s in Wales.
After a year of private study he became Professor of Canon Law at Ditton Hall and later at St Beuno’s. Between 1882 and 1906 he taught canon law at the Gregorian University, the last two years spent there he also served as its rector.
After the death of Luis Martín, the vicar general summoned a congregation for August 31, 1906, but it began after a day’s postponement on September 1 and would last until October 18. On the third ballot taken on September 8, the 64-year-old Wernz was elected general.
During his generalate he vigorously promoted the spiritual life, opened missions and created provinces in all parts of the world.
The whole continent of North America was one of his special interests and he approved the setting up of provinces, houses, and colleges the length and breadth of that vast territory.
Father Martín had set up the famous Monumenta Historica and Wernz continued his support and encouraged Jesuit writers to take up this important work, which they did with enthusiasm.
He was instrumental in the founding of the Jesuit periodicals “Voces e Maria ad Lacum” which became “Stimmen der Zeit” in Germany and another, “Przeglad Powszechny,” in Poland.
One of his last letters written on December 25, 1913, to the society was on the celebration of the centenary of the society’s restitution, to take place the following year.
Wernz had been general for seven years and eleven months, from September 8, 1906, until he died on August 19, 1914.
His death occurred only a few hours before that of Pope Pius X and a mere three weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. It would be a difficult time for his successor to begin leading an international Society in a world internationally shattered.
His tomb can be found in the Jesuit Mausoleum at the Roman Campo Verano cemetery.