Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) --Founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
Iñigo López de Loyola was born in the family castle of Loyola in Azpeitia, in the Basque province, Spain, to a noble family. In keeping with family tradition, he became a soldier, and in 1521 was wounded in the leg by a cannonball during a siege of Pampeluna (Pamplona).
During his long period of convalescence — he remained partially crippled for life — he underwent a remarkable conversion, the transformation sparked by his reading of the life of Christ and assorted saints’ lives. By 1522, he was absolutely determined to become a saint, leaving the family castle and embarking on a pilgrimage to the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. There he confessed his sins, dressed in sackcloth, and placed his sword on the altar of the Blessed Virgin to whom he dedicated himself as a knight.
Living for a time in a cave (1522-1523), he developed rapidly in the spiritual life and began work on his masterpiece, the famed Spiritual Exercises. He left Manresa in 1523 and went to Rome and then Jerusalem, where he lived entirely on alms and worked to convert local Muslims.
At the urging of the Franciscans, who were quite concerned for Ignatius’ life, he returned to Barcelona. Deciding that he needed to be better educated in order to aid others properly, Ignatius spent the next eleven years in study, at Alcalá, Salamanca, and Paris. On March 14, 1534, he received a master of arts degree.
During this time, Ignatius gathered around him a group of followers who sought to join him in his spiritual quest. On August 15, 1534, in the chapel of the Benedictine monastery of Paris, they each took vows of poverty and chastity, with the special hope of missionary pilgrimages to the Holy Land, with particular obedience to the Holy See. This moment witnessed the birth of the Society of Jesus.
They went to Italy and were ordained in 1537, but it was soon clear that a pilgrimage was impossible. They thus presented themselves to the Holy Father and offered their services. Pope Paul III (r. 1534-1549) immediately saw their potential and gave oral approval for the order in 1539. Formal approbation came in 1540 through the formula instituted in the bull Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae. Ignatius was elected the first general of the order, receiving the first solemn profession on April 22, 1541.
The rest of his life was devoted to advancing the cause of the society. He drew up the constitution of the order from 1547-1550, founded the Roman College (which later became the Gregorian University), and started the German College in Rome to prepare priests for the effort of recovering German regions that had been lost to Protestantism.
Ignatius was responsible for creating one of the most unique and significant religious orders in the history of the Church. The Jesuits proved a bold, innovative community, which stressed its devotion to the Holy See, brilliantly educated and spiritually developed priests, and showed concern for the missionary endeavors of the faith.
Ignatius was also responsible for the Spiritual Exercises, a profound set of meditations and rules intended to foster spiritual development.
Ignatius died at Rome on July 31, 1556. Pope Paul V (r. 1605-1621) beatified him in 1609, and Ignatius was canonized by Pope Gregory XV (r. 1621-1623) on March 22, 1622. Pope Pius XI (r. 1922-1939) declared him the patron of all spiritual exercises. Feast day: July 31.
Biographies from Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Saints, Revised by Matthew and Stephen Bunson; illustrations by Margaret Bunson
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