Feast Day : July 31
Patronage: Jesuit Order; soldiers; spiritual retreats and exercises
Also known as: Ignatius Loyola, Ignatius de Loyola
Ignatius was born in Loyola Castle near Azpeitia, in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, Spain, on Christmas Eve, 1491. The youngest child of Beltrán Yañez de Oñez y Loyola and Marina Saenz de Lieona y Balda, he was baptized Iñigo, after St. Enecus (Innicus), Abbot of Oña. He assumed the name Ignacio (Ignatius) in middle life, when he was living in Rome. At the age of 16, Ignatius was sent by his father to live and work with Juan Velásquez de Cuellar, treasurer to the king of Castile, in Arevalo. As a member of the Velásquez household, he had easy access to the court, and developed a taste for the decadent life. He dressed in a coat of mail with a breastplate and carried a sword and other arms. He was enamored of the ladies, was much addicted to gambling, and on occasion engaged in swordplay. However, he also learned to be an accomplished horseman and courtier and practiced the soldierly virtues of discipline, obedience and prudence. When Velásquez died in 1517, Ignatius joined the army under the duke of Najera, a kinsman. Four years later (on May 20, 1521), he was leading the defense of the fortress of Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, under bombardment by the French. A cannon ball passed between his legs, tearing open his left calf and breaking his right shin. With his wounding, the Spanish troops surrendered. Out of respect for his courage, the French set the bones and sent him in a litter to his father’s castle, 50 miles away. The leg did not heal, so it was necessary to break it again and to reset it. This second operation involved sawing off part of a bone, leaving one of his legs shorter than the other. In perpetual fever, Ignatius was told to prepare for death, but on the feast day of SS. Peter and Paul (June 29), he took an unexpected turn for the better; he eventually recovered fully, although he walked with a pronounced limp. His recuperation at Loyola was a turning point for Ignatius. The only books at hand were a life of Jesus and a biography of St. George. He began reading these with little interest but gradually became so immersed in them that he spent entire days reading and rereading. This was the beginning of his conversion and also of his discernment of disembodied spirits and of the practices and insights he later described in his classic work, Spiritual Exercises. By the time he left the castle in March 1522, he had decided to devote himself to the religious life. His first action was a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, in the mountains above Barcelona. After three days of self-examination, he confessed, gave his rich man’s clothes to the poor, and donned a sackcloth that reached to his feet. He hung his sword and dagger by Our Lady’s altar, then spent the night watching over them. The next morning, after Communion, he left the shrine. Continuing toward Barcelona he stopped along the River Cardoner at a town called Manresa, where a woman named Iñes Pascual showed him a cave where he could retire for prayer and penitence. Ignatius intended to stay in the cave only a short while, but ended up living there for 10 months. During this time he began making notes on what would become his Spiritual Exercises. He also experienced several visions, including one he regarded as the most significant of his life. He never described this vision, but it appears to have been more of an enlightenment, in which God was revealed to be inherent in all things—a grace that was to become one of the central characteristics of Jesuit spirituality. Ignatius left the cave in February 1523 and journeyed to the Holy Land, where he planned to labor and preach. He visited the scenes of Jesus’ life with such obvious zeal that the Franciscan Guardian of the Holy Places ordered him to leave, lest he antagonize the fanatical Muslim Turks then in control of the area and be kidnapped and held for ransom. Raising ransoms for Christian prisoners had become such a problem that the pope had granted the Franciscans oversight in the region. Reluctantly, Ignatius returned to Europe, arriving back in Barcelona about March 1524. Now determined to prepare for the priesthood, he began studying Latin in a boys’ school. After two years he was proficient enough to enroll in the University of Alcalá, near Madrid, newly founded by Grand Inquisitor Jimenes (Ximenes) de Cisneros. There his evangelizing zeal again got him into trouble. Living at a hospice for poor students, he wore a coarse gray habit and begged his food. He also taught children the catechism and led adults through his spiritual exercises. Since he had no training or authority for these things, the vicar-general, Figueroa, accused him of presumption and had him imprisoned for six weeks. When he was released, Ignatius was forbidden to give religious instruction for three years or to wear any distinguishing dress. Leaving Barcelona at the end of 1527, Ignatius entered the University of Salamanca. Within two weeks, he was back in prison. Although the Dominican inquisitors could find no heresy in what he taught, they told him that he could teach only children and then only simple religious truths. Once more he took to the road, this time heading for Paris. He arrived there in February 1528 and entered the Sorbonne, attending lectures in Latin grammar and literature, philosophy and philology. He continued promoting his spiritual exercises, gathering the group—including St. Francis Xavier—who were to join with him in founding the Jesuit order. The six of them took vows of chastity and poverty in a chapel on Montmartre on the feast of the Assumption in August 1534. They agreed to travel together to the Holy Land, or if that proved impossible, to go to Rome and place themselves at the disposal of the pope. Ignatius was ordained a priest in 1534, and received his M.A. degree in March 1535. Ill health then forced him to leave Paris rather than staying to complete his doctorate. He returned to his native Guipúzcoa, but instead of staying in his family’s castle, he took up quarters in a nearby hospital, where he continued teaching his special brand of Christianity. He remained there until the winter of 1537, when he and two of his Paris companions decided it was time to go to Rome. At a chapel in La Storta, a few miles outside the city, Ignatius had the second most significant of his mystical experiences. He seemed to see Father and Son together, the latter speaking the words: Ego vobis Romae propitius ero, “I will be favorable to you in Rome.” Ignatius was unsure what this meant, since Jesus had experienced persecution as well as success. However, in Rome, Pope Paul III received the men graciously and put them to work teaching Scripture and theology and preaching. Also in Rome, on Christmas morning of 1538, Ignatius celebrated his first Mass, in the Chapel of the Manger in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major). It was believed that this chapel had the actual manger of Bethlehem, so since Ignatius was not able to say his first Mass in Jerusalem as he had hoped, this was thought to be the best substitute. The group disbanded again, but during Lent in 1539, Ignatius asked all to join him in Rome to discuss their future. Going to the Holy Land was still out of the question. They had not previously thought of founding a religious order, though they had for some time been calling themselves the “Company of Jesus”—company to be understood in its military sense. Now they agreed to take the next step, and found a new religious community. Following the military model, they would vow obedience to a superior general who would hold office for life. They would place themselves at the disposal of the pope to travel wherever he should wish to send them for whatever duties. A vow to this effect was added to the ordinary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Pope Paul III issued a bull approving of the new order—which came to be known in English as the Society of Jesus—on September 27, 1540. On April 7, 1541, Ignatius was unanimously elected superior general, and on April 22, at the church of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the friends pronounced their vows in the new order. Some headed overseas immediately, in time to become superiors of provincial branches. Meanwhile, Ignatius remained in Rome, where he directed all the overseas missions, and worked on the rules of the order. In 1547, he was joined by a secretary, Father Palaneo, who helped him with his correspondence and in drafting the constitution, which was completed, approved and published in 1552. Spiritual Exercises was published in 1548, with papal approval. Besides the Society of Jesus, Ignatius established several foundations, including one for Jewish converts to Catholicism and another for loose women who were anxious to reform but felt no call to the religious life. However, it is with the Jesuits that he will forever be associated. Ever since his student days in Paris, Ignatius had suffered from gallstones, and must often have been in considerable pain. His condition became increasingly troublesome in Rome. Then, in the summer of 1556, he contracted Roman fever. On July 30 he asked for the last sacraments and the papal blessing, but because his doctors believed him to be in no imminent danger, his staff did nothing. The next morning he was found near death. The last blessing was given but he died without the pope’s blessing and before the holy oils could be brought. His relics lie beneath an altar designed by Pozzi in the Gesù. Miraculous phenomena were recorded about Ignatius. Once after severe illness he was witnessed in a rapture, levitating in a kneeling position while he prayed aloud. On other occasions in prayer, he was seen surrounded by a brilliant supernatural light. During an ecstasy, a flame of fire was seen hovering over his head. His emblems are a book, a chasuble, the Holy Communion, and the apparition of the Lord. In art, Ignatius is a bearded Jesuit, often with a book of the Jesuit Rule, kneeling before Christ. He may also be shown: with Christ bringing him a Cross; with Christ as the Good Shepherd; with Christ and Saint Peter before him; holding the Rule, with Saint Francis Xavier or other Jesuit saints (IHS on his breast); in Mass vestments, his hand resting upon his Rule, light in the heavens; with a dragon under his feet; holding the Rule, IHS, and Heart pierced by three nails.