St. Ignatius Loyola
St. Ignatius Loyola
Founder of the Society of Jesus
It was in early June 1521 that soldiers carried the wounded Iñigo de Loyola to his ancestral home to recuperate from wounds received in battle. Since 1517 he had been in the service of the Duke of Nájera, Viceroy of Navarre, and under the Duke's leadership he had successfully participated in many battles without injury to himself. But when the French stormed the fortress at Pamplona on May 20, 1521, a stray cannon shot wounded one of his legs and broke the other. When the party arrived at Loyola Castle, Iñigo was feverish -- the wound in his leg refused to heal-- and to add to his discomfort he learned that the broken leg had to be reset, a procedure to be performed without anesthesia. Instead of getting better Inigo began to get worse and by the end of June his physician advised him to prepare for death. Then, unexpectedly, on the morning of June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, he felt better and within days he was out of danger. The wound healed and the bones in the broken leg mended; but, unfortunately, one leg was shorter than the other and an unsightly bone protruded below the knee. Realizing that as long as this condition remained he would be unable to wear the hose and the close-fitting boots that were then in fashion, and thinking more of his appearance than of the pain he would have to endure, Iñigo ordered the surgeon to saw off the offending bone and to lengthen his leg by systematic stretching.
For days Iñigo remained in bed and quietly endured the stretching so that he could once again be a handsome courtier. It was not pain that brought him suffering, it was the boredom. During his days of recovery he asked for books on chivalry, his favorite reading, but there were no such romances in the Loyola castle. So instead he was given the only books in the house -- one was a Life of Christ by Ludolph, a Carthusian monk, and the other was Flos sanctorum, a collection of lives of the saints. Iñigo set about reading them, and as it happened, this was the most important reading he would ever do.
Iñigo de Loyola was born in 1491 in the family castle in Azpeitia, in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, Spain. He was the youngest of the thirteen children of Beltrán de Loyola and Marina Saénz de Licona, and was given the name Iñigo after the saintly Benedictine Abbot of Oña. By 1507, when both of his parents were dead, he went to serve as page to Juan Velázquez, Alcalde de Arévalo and treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. As a member of the Velázquez household he was frequently at court where he always sought to please the ladies. After ten years in the Alcalde's service he took up arms for the Duke of Nájera, and his injury at Pamplona was God's way of telling him that He wanted him in the service of His Son, the eternal King.
During his convalescence Iñigo reflected on the books he read and went on to question his former life, asking: "Why can I not walk these same glorious paths as did the saints?" The more he reflected, the more he was convinced that he needed to do penance, and so he resolved to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. One evening, perhaps it was mid-August, 1521, Our Lady with the Infant Jesus visited him in his room, a visit that brought him much consolation. This was his night of conversion and transformation; he now detested his former way of life and was determined to follow the paths of the saints. As he continued to read his books, he continued to reflect; and the more he reflected, the more did God become the center of his life.
By March 1522, Iñigo's right leg was sufficiently healed for him to put his plan into action. Without notifying his family that he was on his way to Jerusalem to live a new life for Christ alone, he set out for the port of Barcelona. At one of his stops, before arriving at Our Lady's shrine at Montserrat, he bought himself a pilgrim's staff and a pair of sandals, and he had a long tunic made from rough cloth, the type that was used to make sacks. Iñigo arrived at the famous shrine on March 21, found a confessor, and made a general confession in writing that took three days to compose. On the twenty-fourth, the eve before the feast of Our Lady's Annunciation, he gave the fine clothes he was wearing to a beggar and clothed himself in his sackcloth tunic. He was doing everything according to plan. That night he went to Our Lady's altar, and, following the rites of chivalry, he spent the evening in a vigil of arms, kneeling and standing the whole night through. At dawn he offered his sword and dagger to Our Lady, hanging them on the chapel wall. Iñigo de Loyola was now Our Lady's knight. Early on the twenty-fifth he left the monastery to make his way to Barcelona. Along the way he stopped at Manresa, a town on the banks of the Cardoner, where he intended to spend a few days. The few days, however, turned into ten months, for it was at Manresa that God began to train him in the spiritual life. He spent seven hours a day in prayer in a cave he had discovered and several hours a day helping the sick in the hospice of St. Lucy. He begged his daily bread and slept wherever lodging was offered him. At Manresa he also became familiar with other spiritual books, among them the Imitation of Christ, a book which he always esteemed. Whenever a passage from his reading particularly struck him, he jotted it down in the notebook he carried, the same one in which he recorded his meditations and the illuminations he received in prayer. It was from this little book that the Spiritual Exercises would later emerge.
After being at Manresa for almost a year, it was time for Iñigo to go to Barcelona and secure passage for Italy and Jerusalem. He left Manresa at the end of February 1523, sailed from Barcelona on March 20, and reached Gaeta, Italy, five days later. Iñigo immediately set out for Rome and arrived there on Palm Sunday, March 29. During his stay in the Eternal City he met Pope Adrian VI and requested permission to make his pilgrimage. By mid-April he was on his way to Venice and finally set sail for the Holy Land on July 15.
Iñigo, a pilgrim among pilgrims, first saw Jerusalem on September 4. He visited the Holy Places in that ancient city, prayed frequently at the Holy Sepulcher, as well as in the Garden of Olives and at the Mount of the Ascension, and visited Bethlehem. The life of Christ which he had read at Loyola now became vibrantly alive, and the pilgrim earnestly desired to remain in the Holy Land; but the Franciscan superior, who was custodian of the Holy Places, strongly dissuaded him. He sadly rejoined his companions, left the Holy Land on September 23, and, after three months of harsh weather and several vessel changes, he landed at Venice on January 12,1524.
Since he was unable to remain in the Holy Land, Iñigo, now thirty-three years old, had to chart his future anew. His only desire was to help souls, so he determined to study for the priesthood. He returned to Barcelona in March 1524 and began to study Latin grammar under Jerome Ardevoll, sitting in class with young boys. When not studying, he spent his time in prayer, penance, and begging. During his two years in Barcelona God inundated his soul with extraordinary supernatural favors. His obvious virtue attracted many of Barcelona's best people to him and these kind friends gave him a place to sleep.
When he had finally mastered the elements of Latin, he moved in May 1526 to the renowned university at Alcalá de Henares. In that great university city Iñigo gathered students and grownups about him, speaking about prayer and explaining to them the meaning of the Gospels, St. Paul, the commandments, and so forth. The good work he was accomplishing was not, however, acceptable to all; some people began to remark: "How can this Iñigo, who is uneducated and not a priest, teach others about God?" His success was brought to the attention of the Inquisition and in May 1527 he was arrested; after forty-two days of detention, however, he was released. Although no one had any difficulty with his doctrine he was, nevertheless, ordered to exchange his pilgrim's garb for that of a cleric or a layman and to stop teaching in public.
Being unable to teach others about God in Alcalá, Iñigo went to Salamanca to continue his studies at its famous university. He arrived, perhaps in July 1527, and immediately went into the streets to preach. Within two weeks of his arrival, the Dominicans at the university suspected him of heresy and placed him in prison. Iñigo was forced to explain to his examiners how he discoursed about the Trinity and the Eucharist, and in the end they found no fault with his teaching. After twenty-two days of confinement he was released and told that he could teach children but he had to refrain from speaking on more complicated theological matters. Feeling himself unwelcome in Salamanca, Iñigo decided to go to Paris, where he arrived on February 2, 1528.
During Iñigo's seven years in the French capital, he studied Latin grammar at the Collège de Montaigu (1528-1529), philosophy at Sainte- Barbe (1529-1533), and theology with the Dominicans (l534-l535). To support himself during these years he spent two months each summer begging alms from the rich Spanish merchants in Flanders. He also made a trip to London in 1531 where he collected enough money to last him through the year.
In September 1529, when he began his studies at Sainte-Barbe, Iñigo shared a room with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier. In time he explained to his roommates how he intended to spend his life for the salvation of souls, and Faber, having the same aspirations, became Iñigo first recruit. Xavier, however, still had dreams of worldly success, and it took time before Iñigo won him over. Among their friends at the university there were other Spaniards who also desired to consecrate themselves to God in the priesthood and in the service of souls. From these men Iñigo recruited James Laynez, Alphonsus Salmeron, Nicholas Bobadilla, and Simon Rodrigues for his group. When he felt his recruits were ready, he directed each of them through the Spiritual Exercises. The result was that each one was now more committed to God than he had been before.
At the beginning of August 1534, the seven companions decided to make private vows of chastity, of poverty (to be practiced when they had completed their studies), and to go to Jerusalem to work for the conversion of infidels. If, however, the trip to the Holy Land should be impossible, they would then go to Rome and place themselves at the disposal of the Holy Father. The date chosen for these vows was the feast of Our Lady's Assumption, August 15. Early that morning the seven met in the ancient crypt of the chapel of St. Denis in the Montmartre section of Paris, and since Faber was the only priest among them -- having been ordained earlier that year-he was the celebrant. Before receiving Holy Communion, each of the seven pronounced his vows. This service joined them together in closer companionship, but as yet they had no thought of forming a religious congregation. What took place in the crypt that morning was the seed that would eventually blossom forth into the Society of Jesus.
When Iñigo received his Master's degree at Eastertime 1534, the university Latinized his name, and thenceforth he used the name Ignatius. Once Ignatius had his Master's degree, he enrolled at the Dominican monastery to begin theology, but he was soon troubled with stomach pains. So poor was his health, in fact, that in early 1535 he had to interrupt his studies and return home where his native air, so his physician thought, would cure him. Before leaving the French capital, however, Ignatius put Faber in charge of the group and planned for everyone to meet in Venice in the spring of 1537, by which time they all would have completed their theology. Ignatius set out for Spain at the end of March and was in his native Azpeitia by April 30. Preferring not to live with his relatives in the family castle, he humbly requested lodging at the Hospital of the Magdalene and supported himself by begging. He did in Azpeitia what he had done in Alcalá -- he gathered the children and taught them about God and arranged to speak to the adults three times a week; but because he was so popular, he changed this into a daily explanation of the faith. Feeling better by the end of July, he bade farewell to his family and friends and set out for Venice.
Ignatius arrived for his second visit to Venice at the end of December 1535, and since he would have to wait two years until his companions joined him, he applied himself to studying theology, to giving the Exercises, and to assisting in a hospital. Faber, in the meantime, added three members to their group in Paris, Claude LeJay, Paschase Broët, and John Codure. Because war had broken out between France and Spain, and since Paris was rife with anti-Spanish feelings, the group decided to leave Paris for Venice two months ahead of schedule. They left on November 15, 1536, and after several close brushes with French soldiers, they safely arrived at their destination on January 8, 1537, and found Ignatius caring for the sick in a Venetian hospital.
Since they all had to wait for the pilgrim ship which would take them to the Holy Land -- and it was not due into port until sometime during the summer -- they volunteered their services at two hospitals, where they washed patients, made beds, and swept floors. In Venice, Ignatius's companions became known as Iniguists, and all who came into contact with them spoke of their kindness and charity.
In March, in preparation for their trip to the Holy Land, Ignatius sent his men to Rome to seek papal permission for their pilgrimage and to request ordination for the non-priests among them. They met Pope Paul III on April 3, Easter Tuesday, and the pope, greatly impressed by this highly-educated group, not only granted permission for their proposed pilgrimage and for the ordination of those who were not yet priests, but he even gave them money for their passage to Jerusalem. The pope, however, told them that tensions were growing in the Mediterranean and that they might never reach their goal. On their return to Venice they went back to their volunteer work at the hospitals. On June 14, 1537, Ignatius and four others were ordained priests, but all postponed celebrating their First Masses until they had time to better prepare themselves.
During the summer it became increasingly clear that with the Turks in the Adriatic it was unlikely that the pilgrim ship would reach Venice, so the pilgrims changed their plans. They broke into groups of twos and threes and went to several northern Italian cities to spend forty days in prayer prior to their First Masses. On July 25, Fr. Ignatius, together with Faber and Laynez, went to Vicenza and found shelter in the ruins of an abandoned monastery outside the city walls. For Ignatius these days were as spiritually rich as those in Manresa, for God granted him innumerable interior consolations and spiritual visions. When the forty days were over, Ignatius postponed his First Mass for another year. He never revealed his reason, but it is generally believed that he still hoped to go to Jerusalem and to celebrate it in the land where Jesus himself had lived. In September he called his companions to Vicenza to discuss future plans, the outcome of which was that Fr. Ignatius was to go to Rome and offer the services of the group to the Pope, while the others were to go to various university centers, Padua, Siena, Ferrara, and Bologna, where they were to begin their preaching apostolate. One final item was determined: if anyone should ask them who they were, they would answer the "Company of Jesus." They called themselves Compañia de Jesús, but when that was rendered into Latin it became Societas Jesu, and when this is translated into English it becomes the familiar Society of Jesus.
Together with Faber and Laynez, Ignatius set out for Rome in November 1537, and when still several miles outside the city, they visited a small chapel at La Storta where Fr. Ignatius had a vision of God in which He told him: "I will be favorable to you in Rome." Comforted to know that God would favor him, he did not yet know whether he would meet with success or persecution. The three pilgrims had their audience with Pope Paul III and humbly placed themselves and their companions at his disposal. Pope Paul, remembering that these were all university- trained theologians, gladly accepted the offer of their talents and immediately appointed Faber and Laynez to teach Scripture and theology at Rome's Sapienza college, leaving Fr. Ignatius to carry out his own particular apostolate of preaching and helping souls.
It was a full year after his arrival in Rome that Fr. Ignatius chose to celebrate his First Mass. On Christmas morning, 1538, he and his companions went to the church of St. Mary Major and there in the Chapel of the Manger, where the relic of Bethelehem was preserved, he offered to the Father in heaven His own Son's eternal oblation.
The work of Fr. Ignatius and his companions prospered in Rome as did that of the Jesuits in other Italian cities. Since God had manifested His will by keeping them in Italy -- they now abandoned plans for the Holy Land -- Ignatius asked his men to come to Rome during Lent 1539, to discuss whether they should remain as they are, or form a religious order. Up to this time they had never thought of founding a new order, but now that the Jerusalem pilgrimage was no longer possible, they had to think about the future. These first Jesuits discussed the matter for several weeks and their unanimous decision was to form a new order, if this would meet with the approval of the pope. They saw themselves as a group dedicated to the salvation of souls, living in community under obedience to their head, and through him obedient to the pope. They regarded themselves as teachers of Christian doctrine ready to travel wherever the pope should wish to send them. By June 24, 1539, Fr. Ignatius had composed a summary description of what the order was to be -- its goals and the means of attaining them -- and he humbly submitted it to the pope for his approval. By September Pope Paul sent his verbal approval, but the written bull of approbation Regimini militantis ecclesiae, was not issued until September 27, 1540. With the publication of the bull the Society of Jesus was canonically established.
Now that the Society had papal approval, a superior would have to be elected and its constitutions written. Fr. Ignatius therefore, convened his men in Rome during Lent 1541, and asked those unable to attend to send in their choice for superior. Three were unable to come: Faber was in Germany and Rodriguez and Xavier were in Portugal, waiting to board ship to go to the missions in the East Indies. When the ballots were read on April 8, each was a vote for Fr. Ignatius; his own ballot showed that he voted for "the one whom the majority would elect." Though faced with the unanimous decision of his fellow Jesuits, he was still reluctant to accept the office and asked his companions to reconsider their votes after a few more days of prayer. The second ballot, on April 13, confirmed the earlier one, but Ignatius was still reluctant to accept and asked for several days in which to pray and to seek advice from his Franciscan confessor. The advice he received was that he had to accept the office of general of the Society since this was the evident will of Almighty God. Conforming his will to that of Divine Providence, Fr. Ignatius and his five companions, on April 22 -- it was Friday of Easter week -- set out to visit the seven ancient churches of Rome ending at St. Paul Outside the Walls. When they arrived they made their confessions to one another, and as Fr. Ignatius celebrated Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady, these Jesuits, at the moment of Communion, pronounced their vows in the newly-formed Society of Jesus.
Fr. Ignatius had fifteen years in which to form and guide the new Society. Besides overseeing its growth and development, he also wrote its Constitutions, preached in Rome's churches, and taught Christian doctrine to children. He interviewed candidates for the Society and directed them through the Exercises. He also carried on an extensive correspondence not only dealing with the affairs of the Society but guiding many people in the spiritual life. The Society did not limit its activity to Rome, and it soon had establishments in the major Italian cities, as well as in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, England and the Low Countries. From these contacts a continuous stream of candidates for the Society made its way to Rome; among them was the scholarly Peter Canisius and the saintly Francis Borgia. As Jesuit influence increased in these cities, colleges were opened and so rapid was the growth of the Society that by 1556, the year when Fr. Ignatius died, it totalled 1,000 members in 76 houses in 12 provinces that included Brazil, Japan, and India. All this is in the short span of fifteen years!
Fr. Ignatius was also attuned to the needs of Rome. He established the House of St. Martha for former prostitutes. and a home for young girls who were especially in danger of being exploited. He founded an orphanage and had a house built for Moors and Jews who had expressed a desire to become Christians. He started the Roman College in 1551 as a model for all Jesuit colleges throughout the world. To help counteract the influence of the Reformation in Germany, he established in 1552 a college in Rome for German seminarians to prepare them properly to work for the Church in Germany. In addition, the pope appointed Jesuits to attend the various colloquies with Lutheran theologians in Germany, and later he appointed Jesuits as his theologians at the great Council of Trent. Ever since his Paris days, Fr. Ignatius had suffered from stomach ailments; these were especially troublesome during the last ten years of his life. As his work increased, especially his concern about the Society's Constitutions, which he completed in 1550, his health declined. In 1554 he spent the months of June and July in bed. The following winter he found new strength, but by April 1556 he was failing again. The summer was oppressive and since he was not getting better, his physician recommended that he go to the villa on the Aventine, which he did on July 2. The air there, however, did not cure him and he returned to the residence in the center of Rome on July 24. The heat was so intense that summer that several Jesuits were ill with fever. Whenever the physician arrived to examine them, he also checked on Fr. Ignatius. But the founder was neither better nor worse, and since he had survived similar bouts in the past, the physician was sure that he would survive this one. Ignatius, however, thought differently.
On Thursday, July 30, Fr. Ignatius called his secretary, Polanco, to his bedside and asked him to go to the Vatican that afternoon to request the pope's blessing for him and to recommend the Society to his good will and to assure him that if, by God's mercy, he were admitted into heaven, his prayer for the Vicar of Christ would be all the more fervent. Although Ignatius was suggesting that death was imminent, Polanco put more trust in the physician's statement that he would recover. And so he told Ignatius that since he had several letters that had to be written and sent to Spain that day, he would go to the Vatican on the following day. Fr. Ignatius intimated that he would prefer Polanco to go that afternoon, nevertheless, he told him, "Do as you wish." Polanco returned to his letters. Later, when he was with Fr. Ignatius for the evening meal, they chatted as usual and, sure he had made the right decision, Polanco went peacefully to bed.
Shortly after midnight Fr. Ignatius had a turn for the worse. When the infirmarian checked on him at daybreak, it was clear that he was in his last moments. The brother hurriedly called several priests to the founder's room, and Polanco rushed off to the Vatican to secure the papal blessing. But before he returned, Fr. Ignatius, the one-time soldier who had become a pilgrim for the love of Christ, had given his soul to God. The news of his death brought many to the Jesuit residence, and when the body was made ready for visitors, there was a long line of cardinals and priests, of Rome's nobility and Rome's poor, all coming to kiss the venerable hands of the founder of the Society of Jesus and to touch him with their rosaries. On Saturday evening, August 1, he was buried in the Church of Madonna della Strad, and when that church was replaced by the magnificent church of the Gesú, his remains were interred there in 1587.
Ignatius of Loyola was beatified on 27 July 1609, and on the 31st of that month, Fr. General Aquaviva offered the first Mass honoring the new Blessed in the Chapel of Madonna della Strada in the Gesú church. He was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on 12 March 1622, together with St. Francis Xavier, and Jesuits celebrate the feast of their beloved founder on July 31, the day when he left this world to be with God in heaven.
Lord, in your providence you guided Saint Ignatius to found the Society of Jesus. Enrich it, we pray, with gifts of heart, mind and spirit. Make us all one with you in holiness and love, so that we may know your will and obey it as your faithful servants. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
©1984 Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J.
Jesuit Saints and Martyrs -- Published by Loyola University Press, 1984; pp. 241-250.