Get to Know your Saints
St. Ignatius of Loyola
Feast day: July 31 | Patron of Military and Soldiers, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Educators and Education, and sufferers of scrupulosity. Birth: 1491 | Death: 1556, Beatified By: July 27, 1609 by Paul V
Inigo Lopez de Loyola later took the name Ignatius, and he was the youngest son of a nobleman in the Basque region of northern Spain. Inigo was educated and trained in the courtly manner during the reign of King Ferdinand. As a young man, his aspirations and goal were to attain the glory and honor associated with knighthood. Inigo was proud to the point of arrogant, seeking the titles of men and the envy of all.
Upon his birth, Europe was entering the Renaissance period, creating an environment hungering for knowledge, art, and the greater appreciation of discovery and ingenuity. With the Renaissance spirit spurring humanity to extend its discoveries and uncovering civilizations and the “hidden secrets” of nature, “new humanism” spread throughout Europe.
In 1521, attempting to defend the Spanish border fortress of Pamplona against the French artillery, Ignatius’ right leg was shattered by a cannon ball. His French captors, impressed by their captor’s courage, carried him across Spain to his family home at Loyola. During his convalescence, Ignatius reflected on the books he read about the lives of the saints, and went on to question his former life, asking: “Why can I not walk these same glorious paths as did the saints?” These books and the isolation of the recovery period brought about his conversion. The more he reflected, the more he was convinced that he needed to do penance, and so he resolved to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. One evening, perhaps it was mid-August 1521, Our Lady with the Infant Jesus visited him in his room, a visit that brought him much consolation, having prior being in deep disconsolation. This was his night of deeper conversion and transformation; he now detested his former way of life and was determined to follow the paths of the saints. As he continued to read his books, he continued to reflect; and the more he reflected, the more did God become the center of his life.
During this pilgrimage, Ignatius stopped at Manresa. He became familiar with other spiritual books, among them theImitation of Christ, a book which he always esteemed. Whenever a passage from his reading particularly struck him, he jotted it down in the notebook he carried, the same one in which he recorded his meditations and the illuminations he received in prayer. It was from this little book that the Spiritual Exercises would later emerge.
In September 1529, when he began his studies for priesthood at Sainte-Barbe, Ignatius shared a room with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier (also saints). In time he explained to them how he intended to spend his life for the salvation of souls. Faber, having the same aspirations, became Ignatius first recruit. Xavier, however, still had dreams of worldly success, and it took time before Ignatius won him over. Among their friends at the university there were other Spaniards who also desired to consecrate themselves to God in the priesthood and in the service of souls.
When he felt his recruits were ready, he directed each of them through theSpiritual Exercises. The result was that each one was now more committed to God than he had been before. In March, in preparation for their trip to the Holy Land, Ignatius sent his men to Rome to seek papal permission for their pilgrimage and to request ordination for the non-priests among them. They met Pope Paul III on April 3, Easter Tuesday. The pope, greatly impressed by this highly-educated group, not only granted permission for their proposed pilgrimage and for the ordination of those who were not yet priests, but he even gave them money for their passage to Jerusalem. Ignatius and the others decided that upon their return, they would be ordained. On their return to Venice, they went back to their volunteer work at the hospitals. On June 14, 1537, Ignatius and four others were ordained priests.
In September he called his companions to Vicenza to discuss plans, the outcome of which was that Fr. Ignatius was to go to Rome and offer the services of the group to the Pope, while the others were to go to various university centers where they were to begin their preaching apostolate. One final item was determined: if anyone should ask them who they were, they would answer the “Company of Jesus.” They called themselvesCompañia de Jesús, but when that was rendered into Latin it became Societas Jesu, and when this is translated into English it becomes the familiarSociety of Jesus. St. Ignatius’Spiritual Exercises are rich because they touch all the dimensions that make us human: physical, emotional, and spiritual. He exemplifies that one can obtain holiness no matter her/his background, past, or present circumstances. St. Ignatius’ conversion discloses that openness to God fuels our determination, trusting in God’s active and loving presence in even when we are most aware of our weakness and brokenness. His courage and determination to leave his former life to enter a life in/with Jesus Christ is a great reason for us getting to know this saint.