Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Azpeitia, Guipúzcoa, Spain. October 23, 1491.
Rome, Italy. July 31, 1556.
He was beatified by Paul V on July 27, 1609.
He was canonized by Gregory XV on March 12, 1622.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, was born in 1491 in the castle of Loyola, Azpeitia, Guipúzcoa, Spain. He was the youngest of Beltrán Ibáñez de Oñaz, the lord of Loyola, and Marina Sánchez de Licona’s 11 children. He spent the first part of his life in the royal courts and in the military. He was a nobleman of the Duke of Nájera and had “a great, vain desire of earning honor.” (Autobiography, 1) In 1521, while defending Pamplona’s fort against the French, a canon ball flew between his legs, breaking one and wounding the other. He was taken home to Loyola and there courageously endured several operations.
The Lord took advantage of his convalescence to come to his encounter. Ignatius was very fond of novels of knights in shining armor and he requested some to entertain himself during his time of recovery. Since none could be found in the castle, they gave him “The Life of Christ,” by Rudolph of Saxony and “Flos Santorun” (life of the saints). Reading these books was the beginning of an interior battle in his soul that leads to his conversion. In his autobiography, he tells us the effects that these books had in his soul: he saw that when he thought about his past life, about the things that he had done for fame and honor and for the girl of his dreams, his spirit was inflamed but he later felt sad and desolate. However, when he thought about imitating the rigors of the saints, his joy remained even after he finished reading. (Autobiography, 8) Ignatius responded to this realization and said, “Saint Francis did this? Well, I have to do the same! Saint Benedict did it? Well, I have to do it! I promise, by the grace of God, to do the same things that the saints did.” Before an image of Our Lady, he reaffirmed his resolution of conversion. The Mother of God responded to Ignatius’ trust and one day appeared to him with the Child Jesus in her arms. Ignatius’ joy was indescribable. From this moment on, the young captain will never again feel temptations against his chastity.
Resolute in deciding to begin a new life and having overcome his brother’s resistance, he left Loyola in 1522 with the desire to go on a pilgrimage to Jesrusalem. On the way to Monserrat (Barcelona) he made a vow of chastity. In the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Monserrat, he spends the night in vigil (as the noblemen of the time did before they were knighted), makes a general written confession that lasts 3 days and he exchanged his clothes for a beggar’s. From now on, he will be a knight in the lines of Jesus Christ. As Barcelona was closed off due to the plague, he headed towards Manresa where he began a life of poverty, prayer, and penance. “With the goal of imitating Christ Our Lord, and of truly becoming more and more like Him, I desire and choose poverty with Christ-poor over riches, humiliations with Christ-humble over honor, and I prefer to be taken for an idiot and a crazy man for Christ, he who was the first to be taken as such, than to be thought of as wise and prudent in this world.” He goes to a cave in Manresa to pray and there passes through periods of consolation, desolation, confusion, scruples, doubts, and anguishes. He wrote down all these experiences and later used them to write the book “Spiritual Exercises,” which has enriched so many souls throughout the centuries.
The time in Manresa strengthened Ignatius’ soul. A mystical experience which he lived on the shores of the Cardoner river marked his spiritual itinerary: “While sitting there, the eyes of his understanding began to open and it wasn’t as if he saw a vision but he understood and learned many things, both spiritual things about the faith and other things of importance. He was so enlightened in these things that it seemed to him that everything was new. […] It seemed to him as if he were a different person and with an intellect different than the one he had before.” (Autobiography, 30) This was one of the most important graces he received and he recognized that all the graces he had previously received from God had not granted him as much light as this one had. He said that even if we didn’t have Sacred Scripture, he would have believed all the articles of the Catholic faith simply because of the grace he had received in Manresa.
He then made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the desire of following Christ’s footsteps and of getting to know and love him more. Upon returning from the Holy Land, at 33 years old, he began to study Latin in Barcelona and afterwards went to study in the Universities of Alcalá and Salamanca. Ignatius has the soul of an apostle, the love of God burns within him and he wants to ignite this love in others’ hearts, he wants to share it with other souls, to make them participants of his experiences. However, for not having completed his studies and for speaking about spiritual things, he is submitted to several trials before the Inquisition and is forbidden to preach. He is not perturbed, however, and he maintains his trust in God; “God loves me more than I love myself.” “Following you, Jesus, I can never be lost!” “Jesus, I wouldn’t leave you for anything in the world! God will do whatever he thinks best. Grant me, Lord, your love and your grace, that’s enough for me!”
Seeing that the roads in Spain are closed to him, he heads off to Paris to continue his studies. In March of 1533, he obtains a Masters in Arts which allows him to teach philosophy and theology. In Paris, he meets other youth in whom the same flame of Ignatius’ ideal is ignited. These youth are: Pedro Fabro, Francisco Javier, Simón Rodríguez, Diego Laínez, Alfonso Salmerón and Nicolás de Bobadilla. Ignatius explains to them everything that he has experienced, especially his experience in Manresa and the desire to seek God arises in them. The seven of them make vows of poverty, chastity and of going to Jerusalem to preach or, if this were not possible, of offering themselves to the Pope, “that he might send them where ever he thinks best for the glory of God and the good of souls.” The ceremony took place in a chapel in Montmartre, where they all received communion from the hands of Pedro Fabro, who had just been ordained a priest. It was the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady of the year 1534.
In 1535, Ignatius’ excessive fasting and penance threaten his health and the doctors recommend that he return home to recover. Ignatius obeys, however his apostolate didn’t end here, he taught catechesis and did as much as he could to promote the spiritual and moral good of his fellow citizens.
Two years later, he got together in Venice with his companions, whose number had now grown to ten. They asked for the Pope’s permission to go to Holy Land and he not only granted them this but also permission to receive priestly ordination. Since the war against the Turks complicated their trip to Jerusalem, they decided to split up to do apostolate. Time went by and yet no ships left the port so they decided to all meet up in Rome and place themselves at the Pope’s disposition.
Ignatius arrived with Laínez and Fabro towards the end of November 1537. 15 kilometers from Rome, they stopped in La Storta and went in to pray in the town’s church. In that chapel, Ignatius had a vision of Christ carrying the Cross and in which the Lord confirmed that his will was for him to found the Society of Jesus. “I’ve seen Christ carrying the cross and at his side was the Eternal Father who said to his Son, “I want you to take this man as your servant,” and Jesus said to me, “I want you to serve us…I will grant you my favor in Rome.”
During Easter of 1538, they all came together in the Eternal City. They desired to form a new religious order, the Society of Jesus, professing vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and adding another special vow of obedience to the Pope. Ignatius defined this vow as the “first and principle basis” of the institution. With this motive, they are received by Pope Paul III in November. A year has passed since Ignatius’ ordination. On Christmas morning 1538, he celebrates his first Mass in St. Mary Major, with abundant tears and consolations.
In 1540, Paul III approves the Society of Jesus and recognizes that, “the hand of God is there.” Ignatius was unanimously chosen as the Superior of the Order; he accepted the position only out of obedience and would fulfill the task until his death. Until 1541, Ignatius would reside in Rome. Crazy for love of Jesus Christ, all of his actions, words, and thoughts were so that God might be more known, loved and better obeyed; his motto was “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam,” that is, ‘all for the greater glory of God.’
He carried out an intense array of apostolic activities: he wrote the Society’s constitutions, carefully looked out for the formation of the Jesuits, founded schools for children, homes for jewish and muslim catecumens, a shelter for women in difficult situations, and takes up collections for the poor and imprisoned. Saints of the caliber of St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis de Borja and many others are formed in St. Ignatius’ school. He was harsh with himself but light on others, especially on repentant sinners. He advised them to pray one of his prayers, “Take, Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. You have given all to me, now I return it. Dispose of me according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace, that’s enough for me.”
Ignatius, physically exhausted, comes to the end of his life. No one except he expected his death. On July 30, 1556, St. Ignatius called Fr. Polanco and said, “The time has come to tell His Holiness that I am close to death and that I humbly ask for his blessing, for me and for one of the other fathers, who will also soon pass away. Tell His Holiness that, after having prayed much for him during this life, I continue doing so in Heaven, if the Divine Goodness will receive me there.”
On July 31, after receiving the apostolic blessing, St. Ignatius pronounced the holy name of Jesus for the last time and his soul went up to God. He was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609 and was canonized on March 12, 1622 by Gregory XV. The decree of canonization mentions two hundred miracles worked through his intercession.
During the 15 years in which St. Ignatius was at the head of the order, it grew from the first 10 members to 1,000 members and spread to nine European countries and to India and Brazil.
Among the graces which St. Ignatius received in Manresa, one was to see Christ truly present in the Eucharist when the priest elevated the Sacred Host. “Elevating the Corpus Domini, he saw clearly with the eyes of his soul, with his understanding, that Jesus Christ, Our Lord, was in that Most Blessed Sacrament.” (Autobiography, 29)
Ignatius’ life was filled with the Eucharist, which he celebrated every day since his first Mass. He was ordained a priest on June 24, 1537, but he waited an entire year to celebrate his first mass because he wanted to prepare himself well for the reception of such a grace. In addition, he hoped to be able to return to the Holy Land and to be able to celebrate his first mass in Bethlehem. Since, for the second time, he was unable to make the trip, due to the war against the Turks, he celebrated his first Mass, “with much spiritual consolation and divine illumination,” on the altar of the manager, in Saint Mary Major, in Rome on December 25, 1538.
In his spiritual diary, he tells how on one occasion, at the moment in which the host was elevated during the Mass, he clearly felt that the body of Jesus was the flesh received from Mary. (Spiritual Diary, 13. Written February 14, 1544).
Ignatius prepared himself intensely for the celebration of the Eucharist with a prolonged time of prayer each morning. During the Mass he frequently experienced a great effusion of tears, sighs, ecstasies, visions, and felt his chest tighten out of his immense love and interior sweetness. “Having the Most Blessed Sacrament in my hands, feeling new devotion and spiritual joy, I was moved to tell him that I wouldn’t leave him for anything in the world.” He was burning with heat, and at times partially lost his sight for crying so much, and also momentarily his speech…When the Mass ended, he normally spent two hours giving thanks, taken up in most excellent contemplation.
He allowed Christ in the Eucharist to transform his heart and disposed himself, at the same time, to suffer the Passion with the Lord and to not deny him anything, “Here I am, O supreme King and Lord of all things, I, so unworthy, but still confiding in your grace and help, I offer myself entirely to You and submit all that is mine to Your will. In the presence of your infinite Goodness, and under the sight of your glorious Virgin Mother and of the whole heavenly court, I declare that this is my intention, my desire, and my firm decision: Provided it will be for Your greatest praise and for my best obedience to You, to follow You as nearly as possible and to imitate You in bearing injustices and adversities, with true poverty, of spirit and things as well, if it pleases Your holiest Majesty to elect and accept me for such a state of life.” (Spiritual Exercises, 98)
Ignatius had a very tender devotion to the Mother of God ever since his childhood and she would have a very important role in his life. There was a chapel close to the Loyola’s town where little Ignatius frequently went to pray at Our Lady’s feet and, according to tradition, he greeted her with the Salve Regina.
While wounded in Loyola, with renewed desires in his heart, he tells us, “I clearly saw an image of Our Lady with the holy Child Jesus. With this vision, which lasted a long while, I received an excessive consolation, and despising my past life, especially the things of the flesh, so much that it seemed to me that all the images I had engraved on my soul were taken away…I never more gave in, in the slightest way, to the desires of the flesh.” (Autobiography,11)
The important events in St. Ignatius’ life took place either in Marian places or on Marian feasts or dates. The ceremony in which Ignatius and his first six companions made their vows took place on August 15 in Montmartre of Paris and his first mass was celebrated in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
He not only devotedly loved the Blessed Virgin Mary but he also felt profoundly loved by her. He frequently repeated, “No matter how much you love the Most Holy Virgin Mary, she will always love you much more than you love her.”
In Azpeitia, Guipúzcoa, Spain:
- Sanctuary in Loyola: A complex in which St. Ignatius’ house, known as the Holy House, is found. He was born there in 1491 and there converted to God in 1521. The Chapel of the Conversion is found on the 3rd floor of the house. In this room, Ignatius’ leg was operated on various times, he converted, and he fell in love with God thanks to reading the “Life of Christ” and “Flos Sanctorum.”
- Close to the sanctuary is the Hermitage of Olatz, where a beautiful Gothic statue of Our Lady, to whom St. Ignatius had a special devotion, is conserved.
- The Parish of St. Sebastian of Soreasu, in which the baptismal font in which St. Ignatius was baptized is found.
- In the neighborhood of the Magdalena, there is a Hermitage of St. Mary Magdalen, where St. Ignatius preached and taught catechesis to the children. The Hospital of Mary Magdalen, where he stayed for several years around 1535, is also found there. From there, he went out daily to beg in the streets of Azpeitia and then handed out the alms among the poor in the hospital.
-Close to the Holy House of Saint Ignatius is Egibar, where Ignatius lived for the first 10 years of his life, raised by nurse named Maria Garin.
In Manresa, Barcelona, Spain:
- The famous cave where St. Ignatius went to pray and do penance is in Manresa, close to Barcelona. St. Ignatius lived a strong spiritual experience there which later helped him to write his book of Spiritual Exercises.
In Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain:
In 1526, St. Ignatius walked from Barcelona to Alcalá de Henares to study Art in the University of Alcalá. He stayed in the Hospital of Santa María la Rica for several days before finally moving to the Hospital of Antenanza. On the top floor of the building the kitchen which he used is preserved and in the hospital’s church, several paintings are dedicated to the saint.
In Rome, Italy:
In the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, known as the “Chiesa del Gesù,” in Rome, you can visit St. Ignatius’ chapel, where the Saint currently rests. St. Ignatius’ rooms can be found next to the church. There, the founder spent the last 12 years of his life, writing the Society’s constitutions and maintaining an intense correspondance with everyone, and he died there in 1556. In addition some of his relics are conserved there.
In La Storta, Italy:
The “Chapel of the Vision,” where St. Ignatius, on his way to Rome with several companions, received the Lord’s confirmation that he had to found the Society of Jesus, is found in this town.
By the saint:
You can find many editions of St. Ignatius’ works and compendiums of his complete works in Catholic bookstores. Here we list a few of the most prominent.
- “The Pilgrim’s Story.” Autobiography in which he narrates his conversion and his spiritual journey until he discovers what it is that God wants of him.
- “Essential writings: God in all things.” The saint constantly spoke of his seeking and finding God in everything.
- “The Book of Spiritual Exercises.” He began to write during his experience in the cave in Manresa. This work seeks to help souls find God by detaching themselves from everything else, to reach the end for which we were created: “to love, serve and praise God, our Creator and Lord.”
In addition to these works, he wrote the Constitutions and Rules of the Society, numberous letters and several other lesser works.
From the Popes:
- Pope Benedict XVI’s discourse to the members of the Society of Jesus, April 22, 2006.
- Pope Francis’ homily on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s feast day, July 31, 2013.
From other authors:
You can find many biographes and commentaries on the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola from different authors in Catholic bookstores. We recommend:
- “The Golden Thread,” by Louis de Wohl.