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Formally known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits were founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola, a Basque nobleman and soldier. They moved to the forefront of the Catholic Church in missionary work and have also been deeply involved in higher education and social service. Their early work as reformers within the church led to jealous opposition by some other religious orders, including complaints that the Jesuits inappropriately adapted the Catholic liturgy to Chinese culture during their successful 18th-century missionary work in China. Consequently, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits in 1773. The order was restored in 1814 but continued to encounter pockets of opposition from inside and outside the church through much of its history.

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