St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Jesuit Founder

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Early Life of St. Ignatius

Inigo de Loyola was born in 1491 in Azpeitia in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa in northern Spain. He was the youngest of thirteen children. At the age of sixteen years he was sent to serve as a page to Juan Valazquez, the treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. As a member of Valasquez household, he was frequently at court and developed a taste for all it presented, especially the ladies. He was much addicted to gambling, very contentious, and not above engaging in swordplay on occasion. In fact, in a dispute between the Loyolas and another family, Ignatius and his brother plus some relatives ambushed at night some clerics who were members of the other family. Ignatius had to flee the town. When finally brought to justice, he claimed clerical immunity, using the defense that he had received the tonsure as a boy, and was therefore exempt from civil prosecution. The defense was specious because Ignatius had for years gone about in the dress of fighting man, wearing a coat of mail and breastplate, and carrying a sword and other sorts of arms – certainly not the garb normally worn by cleric. The case dragged on for weeks, but the Loyolas were apparently powerful. Probably through the influence of higher – ups, the case against Ignatius was dropped.

Eventually, he found himself at age of 30 in May of 1521 as an officer defending the fortress of town of Pamplona against the French, who claimed the territory as their own against Spain. The Spaniards were terribly outnumbered the commander of the Spanish forces wanted to surrender , but Ignatius convinced him to fight on for the honor of Spain, if not for victory. During the battle, a cannonball struck Ignatius, wounding one leg and breaking the other. Because they admired his courage, the French soldier carried him back to recuperate at his home, the castle of Loyola, rather than to prison.

His leg was set but did not heal so it was necessary to break it and reset it, all without anesthesia. Ignatius grew worse and was finally told by the doctors that he should prepare for death.

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June), he took an unexpected turn for the better. The leg healed, but when it did the bone protruded below the knee and one leg was shorter than the other. This was unacceptable to Ignatius, who considered it a fate worse than death not to be able to wear the long, tight – fitting boots and hose of courtier. Therefore, he ordered the doctor to saw off the offending knob of bone and lengthen the bone by systematic stretching. Again, all of this was done without anesthesia. Unfortunately, this was not a successful procedure. All his life he walked with a limp because one leg was shorter than other.

Conversion of St. Ignatius

During the long weeks of his recuperation, he was extremely bored and asked for some romance novels to pass the time. Luckily there none in the castle of Loyola, but there were none in the castle of Loyola, but there was a copy of the life of Christ and book on the saints. Desperate, Ignatius began to read them. The more he read, the more he considered the exploits of the saints worth imitating. However, at the same time he continued to have daydreams of fame and glory, along with fantasies of winning the love of a certain noble lady of the court, the identity of whom we never have discovered but who seems to have been of royal blood. He noticed, however, that after reading and thinking of the saint and Christ, he was at peace and satisfied. Yet when he finished his long daydreams of his noble lady, he would feel restless and unsatisfied. Not only was this experience the beginning of his conversion, it was also the beginning of spiritual discernment, or discernment of spirit, which is associated with Ignatius and described in his Spiritual Exercises.

The Exercises recognize that not only the intellect but also the emotions and feeling can help us to come to knowledge of the action of the spirit in our lives. Eventually, completely converted from his old desires and plans of romance and worldly conquests, and recovered from his wounds enough to travel, he left the castle in March of 1522.

He had decided that he wanted to go to Jerusalem to live where our Lord had spent his life on earth. As a first step, he began his journey to Barcelona. Though he had been converted completely from his old ways he had been converted completely from his old ways, he was still seriously lacking in the true spirit of charity and Christian understanding, as illustrated by an encounter he had with a Moor on his way. The Moor and he came together on the road, both riding mules, and they began to debate religious matters. The Moor claimed that the Blessed Virgin was not a virgin in her life after Christ was born. Ignatius took this to be such an insult that he was dilemma as to what to do. They came to a fork in the road, and Ignatius decided that he would let circumstances direct his course of action. The Moor went down one fork. Ignatius let the reins of his mule drop. If his mule followed the Moor, he would kill him. If the mule took the other folk, he would let the Moor live. Fortunately for the Moor, Ignatius’s mule was more charitable than its rider and took the opposite fork from the Moor.

He proceeded to the Benedictine shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, made a general confession, and knelt all night in vigil before Our Lady’s altar, following the rites of chivalry. He left his sword and knife at the altar, went out and gave away all his fine clothes to a poor man, and dressed himself in rough clothes with sandals and a staff.

Last Illnes

Ever since his student days in Paris, Ignatius had suffered from stomach ailments, and they become increasing troublesome in Rome. In the summer of 1556 his health grew worse, but his physician thought he would survive this summer as he had done others. Ignatius, however, thought that the end was near. On the afternoon of July 30, he asked Polanco to go and get the Pope’s blessing for him, suggesting by this to Polanco that he was dying. Polanco, however, trusted the physician more than Ignatius and told him that he had a lot of letters to write and mail that day. He would go for the Pope’s blessing the next day. Though Ignatius indicated that he would prefer he (Polanco) go that afternoon, he did not insist. Shortly after midnight, Ignatius took a turn for the worse. Polanco, rushed off to the Vatican to get the papal blessing, but it was too late. The former worldly courtier and soldier who had turned his gaze to another court and a different type of battle had rendered his soul into the hands of God. Ignatius was beatified on July 27, 1609 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622 together with St. Francis Xavier. Ignatius’ feast day is celebrated by the universal Church and Jesuits on July 31, the day he died.

Return of The School

By now he was 33 years old and determined to study for the priesthood. However, he was ignorant of Latin, a necessary preliminary to university studies in those days. So he started back to school studying Latin Grammar with young boys in a school in Barcelona. There he begged for his food and shelter. After two years, he moved on to the University of Alcala. There his zeal got him into trouble, a problem that continued throughout his life. He would gather students and adults to explain the Gospels to them and teach them how to pray. His efforts attracted the attention of the Inquisition and he was thrown into jail for 42 days. When he was released, he was told to avoid teaching others. The Spanish Inquisition was a bit paranoid and anyone not ordained was suspect (as well as many who were ordained).

Because he could not live without helping souls, Ignatius moved on to the University of Salamanca. There, with – in two weeks, the Dominicans had thrown him back into prison again. Though they could find no heresy in what he taught, he was told that he could only teach children and then only simple religious truths. Once more he took to the road, this time for Paris.

At the University of Paris, he began school again, studying Latin grammar and literature, philosophy, and theology. He would spend a couple of months each summer begging in Flanders for the money he would need to support himself in his studies for the rest of the year. It was also in Paris that he began sharing a room with Francis Xavier and Peter Faber. He greatly influenced a few other fellow students (Xavier was the hardest nut to crack, interested as he was mainly in worldly success and honors), directing them all at one time or another for thirty days in what we now call the Spiritual Exercises. Eventually, six of them plus Ignatius decided to take vows of chastity and poverty and go to the Holy Land. If going to the Holy Land become impossible, they would then go to Rome and place themselves at the disposal of the Pope for whatever he would want them to do. They did not think of doing this as a religious order or congregation, but as individual priests. For a year they waited; however, no ship was able to take them to take them to the Holy Land because of the conflict between the Christian and Muslims. While waiting, they spend some time working in hospitals and teaching catechism in various cities of northern Italy. It was during this time that Ignatius was ordained a priest, but he did not say Mass for another year. It is thought that he wanted to say his first Mass in Jerusalem, in the land where Jesus himself had lived.