Confessor 1491 – 1556
The ex-soldier could not have known, as he knelt with his six companions, that his newly formed company would one day become an army. Today, thirty thousand of his followers are dispersed throughout the world. They are in the jungles, on remote islands, in cities, and in distant villages. They work in laboratories, observatories, libraries. They control a hundred institutions of higher learning and are proprietors of academies, seminaries, and missions.
There is nothing in the early life of Ignatius Loyola to indicate either his future influence or his great sanctity. He was born in the castle of Loyola in Spain in 1491, of the noble and ancient Basque family of Don Beltran Yanez. One of the youngest of a dozen children, Ignatius had a choice between religious or military life. Although he received the tonsure he had no doubt that it was to be a life of adventure and chivalry for him.
At the age of twenty-four he was a full-fledged soldier, dressed extravagantly, dreaming of romance, fighting and dueling, ever jealous of his honor. In 1521 Ignatius’ dreams of military glory came to an abrupt end. At the defense of the Spanish citadel of Pamplona, a cannon ball broke his leg, which was never to heal properly.
There were no romantic novels available at Loyola, where he spent his convalescence. Ignatius turned, out of boredom, to spiritual reading: a fourteenth-century life of Christ and a Spanish version of the pious tales of the Golden Legend. This was the beginning of his conversion. His mind wavered between the world and the spirit. Then he had a vision of our Lady and the Infant Christ. He made his decision.
As soon as he was able to leave, Ignatius went to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat. There he made a general confession, left his sword and dagger before our Lady’s altar, and gave away his earthly goods.
He spent a year living on alms in the town of Manresa, during which time he received many divine illuminations on matters of doctrine. Then he made a trip to the Holy Land. Ignatius soon realized that without education he would have little success in winning souls to Christ, which was now the aim of his life. He entered school, a man thirty-one years old, in the lowest class and among the youngest students. For eleven years he studied, living in the utmost poverty and begging his food at Barcelona, Alcala, Salamanca, and Paris, being helped and cared for by many generous people.
While Ignatius studied, he preached, and a handful of men, including Francis Xavier, became disciples. In 1534, after receiving the degree of master of arts from the University of Paris, he met with six men at the chapel on Montmartre, where they received Holy Communion from the one priest of the group, Peter Faber. They vowed a trip to the Holy Land and took vows of chastity and poverty.
The proposed trip proved impossible because of war, and in the spring of 1537, after an interview with Pope Paul III, Ignatius’ group was given permission to be ordained. It was not until 1538 that the companions, who had been preaching in Pairs, met again in Rome. There, after much prayer, they decided that if their plan was approved they would form themselves into a religious body.
In 1540 the Society of Jesus became a reality, and Ignatius was chosen the first general. The rule he established seem, at the time, revolutionary. His disciples were to be ascetics in the world, not in the cloister. They were to be teachers and preachers, trained scholars able to meet argument with better argument. There were to renounce all rank, temporal or ecclesiastical. There were to live under the intense discipline and perfect obedience which has always been their distinctive characteristic. Special obedience was vowed to the Holy Father in the matter of missions.
After the foundation of the society, Ignatius never left Rome, His administrative genius was given tremendous scope, and a thousand projects occupied his agile mind. He live to see his followers penetrate the corners of the known world.
One of his most fruitful works was the book of Spiritual Exercises, begun at Manresa, where he had spent a year of prayer and penance. So clear and universal were the principles of prayer he laid down that some adaptation of his exercise is very often used at retreats today.
The recruits multiplied so rapidly that when Ignatius does on July 13, 1556, there were sixty-seven Jesuit houses, and the grace that was given at Manresa did more than make one man a saint. There made a society of men, all with the same goal of service and sanctity. Many miracles were recorded at the canonization of Saint Ignatius Loyola. His most impressive accomplishment in the annals of history and the Church was the establishment of the Society of Jesus, the influence of which throughout four hundred years is altogether incalculable. But even without this, Ignatius would take his place among the great saints, for his heroic virtue, his absolute dedication of his life and energies to Christ, his mystic graces, and his spiritual guidance.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 428-430. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
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