Saint Ignatius
Written by Michael K. Jones

Saint Ignatius was born in 1491 in the Loyola Castle in the town of Azpeitia, Guipuzcoa province, in northern Spain. During his lifetime he founded the Society of Jesus or more popularly known as the Jesuits. Many of us are familiar with the Jesuit system of schools and universities throughout the world, although this was not the primary reason why the Jesuits were started.

Saint Ignatius was born Inigo de Loyola the youngest of thirteen children. He served as a page to Juan Velazquez who was the treasuer of Castile. He joined the military and at the age of thirty was an officer in the Spanish army. In a battle against the French, a cannon ball hit his legs wounding one and breaking the other. He was returned to his home in Loyola where he recovered from his wounds. During that time he became bored and started to read books about the life of Christ and the saints. It was said that these readings gave him a sense of peace and wholeness. Other times he found himself preoccupied with thoughts of fame, glory and nobility. It was said that these thoughts of worldy matters left him unfulfilled. Many note that this was the beginning of his conversion.

In March of 1522 he decided that he would journey to Jerusalem to investigate those places that Jesus had lived. On his journey to the Holy Land he made many stops. At the Benedictine shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat he prayed all night in a vigil before the Altar to Our Lady. The next day he left his sword and gave away all of his possessions to the poor. He put on the clothes of the poor with sandals and a staff and began anew his journey. One of his next stops was the town of Manresa. As you will see this continued journey of his is how he came by the name of pilgrim. He did stay here for ten months praying and working in a local hospice. It was here that he began his writings entitled Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises have become a model for religious and lay alike on how to make a good retreat and examination of oneself leading towards a more complete or spiritual self.

During this time he also had vision which he never fully discussed with anyone but which it was said that he had "an encounter with God as He really IS". From this point forward he saw all creation in a new light. He now could see God in all things. The Jesuit motto is "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam", that is "To the Greater Glory of God". It was probably at Manresa that this motto first began to take shape.

After leaving Manresa Ignatius heading towards Barcelona where he caught a boat to Italy. In Italy he visited Rome where he asked permission of Pope Adrian VI to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Having received permission he headed to his destination. Once having arrived in Jerusalem he was told that he had to leave because it was too dangerous. The Turks were the current rulers of the Holy Land. After being ordered to leave he headed back to Spain.

Back in his homeland he had decided that he wanted to become a priest. In order to enroll he needed to learn Latin. So he took up his studies of Latin in a grade school with young children, at this point he was 33 years old. During this time he was thrown in jail by the Inquisition for teaching the Gospel to people without the education or ordination of a priest. Once he was released he decided to go to Paris. He was able to enroll in the University of Paris and continue his studies. Here Ignatius met two of his close friends Francis Xavier and Peter Faber. A group of his friends from Paris agreed to take the vows of chastity and poverty and to travel to the Holy Land. They headed off to Italy to place themselves at the disposal of the Pope. While in Italy and awaiting clearance to the Holy Land due the continuing wars with the Muslims, they performed works of mercy in hospitals and charity in various cities in Northern Italy. During this time Ignatius was ordained a priest.

Finally Ignatius, Peter Faber and James Lainez decided that they should go to Rome and place themselves at the disposal of the Pope. The Pope asked that they teach scripture, theology and perform general preaching. In the following year 1538 Ignatius invited his followers to Rome during Lent to discuss their plans for the future. Since it did not appear that they would ever make it to the Holy Land, what would they do. They spent many weeks in discussion and prayer. The conclusion was to seek the Pope's permission to form a religious community. Their order would take vows of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. To this they added that their group would place themselves at the disposal of the Holy Father to do whatever special tasks he would ask. In September of 1540 they received approval from Pope Paul III and The Society of Jesus was born. Ignatius was elected the first superior general and only reluctantly accepted after his spiritual advisor told him that it was God's will that he take on this role. On Good Friday April 22, 1541 the group pronounced their vows for the newly formed Societatis Jesu. Ignatius opened schools in Italy, Spain, Germany, India, and Portugal. These schools were intended to act as seminaries for the Jesuits. The schools became so popular that in 1548 bishops, rulers, and others began requesting that schools be opened in their areas. These schools were thought of as terrific tools for clarifying the teaching of the Church to the general masses as this was during the time of the Reformation.

In the summer of 1556 Ignatius' health was failing. On July 31 he died. He was beatified on July 27, 1609 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. Today the society of Jesus is know for their missionary work throughout the world as well for the their top notch universities. They are viewed as the special emissaries of the Pope who have taken a vow to serve the papacy in those areas of need.

Bibliography: Saint Ignatius of Loyola by Reverend Norman O'Neal, SJ John W. O'Malley, S.J. The First Jesuits, Harvard University Press. Cambridge, 1993.
Philip Caraman, S.J. Ignatius Loyola. Harper & Row. New York, 1990. Andre Ravier, S.J. Ignatius Loyola and the Founding of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius Press. San Francisco, 1987
Candido de Dalmases, S.J. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits. Institute of Jesuit Sources. St. Louis, 1985.
Hugo Rahner, S.J. and Leonard von Matt. St. Ignatius of Loyola. Henry Regnery. Chicago, 1956.
James Brodrick, S.J. The Origin of the Jesuits. Loyola University Press. Chicago, 1986. "This is a reprint of the original 1940 edition and contains good short accounts of both St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier."

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