Who is St Ignatius Loyola?
Ignatius Loyola, born in 1491, was the youngest child of a large, wealthy family in Loyola, Spain. The following year, in 1492, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered the American continents. Twenty-five years later, Martin Luther posted his “Ninety-five Theses” on the doors of a German cathedral, inaugurating the Protestant Reformation. This was an era of profound change and turbulence in the Church and throughout the world.
At age twenty-nine, Ignatius was serving in the Spanish army and fought in a battle against the French in the town of Pamplona, Spain. Swords clanged and shots fired. A cannonball struck Ignatius in the knee, shattering his leg, and he collapsed to the ground in agony. He was carried on a stretcher back to his family’s castle, and everyone presumed that he would die. Incredibly, he began a slow recovery. As he lay on his bed, he underwent a powerful spiritual conversion. He read two books: one about the lives of the saints and a book of reflections on the gospels. He reflected on his own life and saw a prideful, self-centered young man who loved honor and personal glory. Slowly, he was drawn to the idea of devoting his life to the service of Christ and the Church. He regained his health, though he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Ignatius left Spain and wandered across Europe, seeking out religious shrines and holy people—asking for their prayers and advice.
He visited the Holy Land and spent time studying at the University of Paris. In Paris, he gathered with other like-minded students for prayer and conversation. Together they preached, served the poor, and led simple retreats. Ignatius was ordained a priest, and in 1540 he founded the Society of Jesus. His roommate in Paris was inspired to join Ignatius in his work. That roommate was Francis Xavier, and he was among the first men to take vows as a Jesuit. (Xavier later traveled to Asia as a heroic Christian missionary, preaching the Gospel in India and Japan. He was canonized in 1622 for his faith and labor.)
Under Ignatius’ leadership, the Jesuit order spread rapidly throughout Europe and around the world—establishing schools, missions, churches, and retreat centers. Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises, a masterpiece of Christian spirituality. He used this book to direct people in retreats. His goal was always to help them know, love and follow Christ more fully.
Today over 16,000 Jesuit priests, brothers and seminarians continue to serve Christ, the Church, and the world in high schools, colleges, parishes, and other ministries in more than 100 countries. The year 2013 marked another historic moment for the Society of Jesus. The Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, S.J., was elected as head of the Catholic Church, taking the name Pope Francis. He is the first Jesuit ever to hold this office. [intro, Abide]