St. Ignatius: Founder of the Jesuits

In 1491, Ignatius of Loyola was born into a noble Basque family in Spain. In his youth he was a courtier, a swaggering “caballero,” and a soldier in the service of the Spanish king, Ferdinand.

While he was defending the fortress at Pamplona in 1521, his leg was shattered by a cannonball. During a prolonged convalescence, Ignatius sought diversion in the books available in the library of his family castle: the lives of Christ and the saints. These readings led Ignatius to experience an interior transformation that changed his whole life. A new desire to serve Jesus replaced his former hopes of knightly glory, and he eventually decided to study for the priesthood.

The once-proud courtier left Loyola and set out as a pilgrim to the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat. There, as a statue at the center of The University of Scranton campus depicts, he spent all night in vigil and offered his knight’s sword to Our Lady. Exchanging his rich garments for those of a beggar, he spent the next few months living in a cave in nearby Manresa. Testing himself through mortification and prayer, he reflected deeply on the life and teachings of Jesus. He kept careful notes of his experiences in prayer, notes that formed the basis of the Spiritual Exercises. This book, revised and adjusted throughout his life, was used by Ignatius to lead others to an experience of God by meditation on the life of Jesus.
While a student in Paris, the 38-year-old Ignatius drew together a small group of friends who gathered in extended prayer and meditation according to his Spiritual Exercises. His closest colleagues were Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, 23 year-old students and roommates. Over the next few years, they were joined by others who ultimately made vows of poverty and chastity on August 15, 1534, in a chapel near Paris.

The spring of 1539 found Ignatius and his companions in Rome where they engaged in serious discussions about how they might work together to serve God in the Church by helping souls. What emerged was a formula for their future. On September 27, 1540, Pope Paul III approved this formula and the Society of Jesus was born.

In 1556, Ignatius, who called himself “the pilgrim,” ended his journey to God. He died peacefully in the early morning of July 31.