Faithful Heroes: Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus {Jesuits} and became its first Superior General.

He was born Íñigo López de Loyola in Gipuzkoa, Basque County, Spain around October 23, 1491. His baptisimal name of Íñigo was after St. Enecus. He was the youngest of thirteen children and his mother died shortly after his birth. He was born into a family of minor

Ignatius of Loyola

nobility.

The local blacksmith’s wife, Maria de Garin, raised Íñigo.

It is unknown when he began using the name Ignatius, but it is believed that he adopted the name, which was a simple variant on his name, because it would be better understood in France and Italy.

While still a boy, he worked as a page in the service of the treasurer of the kingdom of Castile, who was also a relative.

Íñigo is said to have a great love for the military and a tremendous desire for fame. When

he was seventeen years of age, he joined the army. His biographers wrote of him he strutted about “with his cape slinging open to reveal his tight-fitting hose and boots; a sword and dagger at his waist” and he was “a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult, and a rough punkish swordsman who used his privileged status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed with his priest brother at carnival time.”

He also enjoyed numerous duels throughout his youth.

Ignatius of Loyola vision of Christ

In 1509, he took up arms for the Duke of Nájera and became known as the “servant of the court” for his diplomacy and leadership. After years of escaping injury, he was wounded when a cannonball hit his legs at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521. Numerous operations were performed, but as a result one leg would become shorter than the other and he would always limp.

While recovering, the only reading material available was on the life of Jesus Christ and the saints. He was so struck with the De Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony that he decided to devote himself to God and follow the example of Francis of Assisi.

He began meditating on what was known as Simple Contemplation, which is placing oneself mentally at the scene of the Gospel story. He would later promote this as Spiritual Exercises.

“In March 1522, he visited the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. There, he carefully examined his past sins, confessed, gave his fine clothes to the poor he met, wore a “garment of sack-cloth”, then hung his sword and dagger at the Virgin’s altar during an overnight vigil at the shrine.”

Ignatius of Loyola by Francisco Zurbaran

For about a year, he lived in the nearby town of Manresa, where he begged for his food and lived in a cave, where he learned to pray for hours at a time.

In September 1523, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

He returned to Barcelona to complete his studies and studied Theology and Latin for the next decade at the University of Alcalá.

He then moved to Paris and studied at the Collège de Montaigu for the next seven years. He obtained his master’s degree from the University of Paris at the age of forty-three.

“On the morning of the 15th of August, 1534, in the chapel of church of Saint Peter, at Montmartre, Loyola and his six companions, of whom only one was a priest, met and took upon themselves the solemn vows of their lifelong work.”

“In 1539, with Saint Peter Faber and Saint Francis Xavier, Ignatius formed the Society of Jesus, which was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III. Ignatius was chosen as the first Superior General of the order and invested with the title of Father General by the Jesuits.”

Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits

Ignatius sent his companions out as missionaries to create schools, colleges and seminaries around Europe. A Jesuit college was opened at Messina, which became very successful. Hence, the reason the order is said to be founded on the principals of education.

He wrote and published a book, Spiritual Exercises, in 1548, for which he was brought before the Roman Inquisition, but charges were dropped and the book received papal permission to be printed. This book is a collection of his insights, prayers and suggestions. It is said to be “one of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written”.

He wrote his biography from 1553-1555, dictating it to his secretary.

He is said to ask his missionaries about the local customs, plants and wildlife where they served stating “anything that seems extraordinary”. He encouraged everyone to go out and “find God in all things”. For this reason one Jesuit historian refers to him as a worldly saint.

He died of malaria, known then as the Roman fever, on July 31, 1556. He was buried at the Maria della Strada Church. When that church was pulled down, he was re-interred at it’s successor Church of the Gesù in Rome, Italy.

Tomb of Ignatius of Loyola

The Catholic Church beatified him in 1609 and canonized him in 1622.

His feast day is celebrated on July 31. He is known as the patron saint of Catholic soldiers.

His influence over founding the Jesuit order and numerous Jesuit schools and educational institutions have provided a global impact, which is why he is a faithful hero.

 

 

 

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