St. Ignatius of Loyola

Spain - 1491


St. Ignatius of Loyola

He is the founder of the Society of Jesus or "Jesuits"; and he is the author of "The Spiritual Exercises" which is famous, and used often in retreats given for clergy and lay adults.

His life and personality may remind you of St. Paul, and at other times of St. Francis. In his early life Ignatius loved being a soldier – valiant, courageous, engaged often in swordplay and display of chivalry. He experienced a deep conversion and quickly became a spiritual leader to others, willing to suffer great hardships (e.g. floggings and imprisonments) and live a holy, disciplined life – "all for the glory of God" (motto of the Jesuits).

Born in northern Spain to a noble family, he was the youngest of 13 children. At age 16 he was sent to serve as a page to the Treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. By the age of 30 he was an officer defending Spanish cities against the French invasion.

On one occasion (near his home in Loyola) the Spaniards were greatly outnumbered and the commander wanted to surrender, but Ignatius convinced him to fight on for the honor of Spain, if not for victory. During the battle a cannon ball struck Ignatius, wounding his left leg and breaking his right leg. Because of his display of courage, the French soldiers carried him back to his home, rather than away to a prison!

He had a long convalescence (almost a year). His broken leg was set but did not heal, so it had to be broken again (all without anesthesia!). And, he suffered when attempts were made to 'stretch' his shorter leg, which never did equal the length of his other leg. He walked with a limp the rest of his life. During his recovery at the castle of Loyola, he asked for some romance novels to read, to pass the time. But all that could be found was a copy on the life of Christ and another book on the saints. So, he read these intently and was moved to a sincere conversion.


After recovery, he visited the shrine of Our Lady of Monteserrat, where it is said he had a vision of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus. There, he made a general confession and knelt all night in vigil before the altar. The next day he left his sword and knife at the altar, went out and gave all his fine clothes to a poor man, and dressed himself in rough clothes with sandals and a staff. (And that, sounds like St. Francis.)

Then he spent 10 months in a cave praying much and working in a nearby hospice. It was there that he wrote his first draft of "The Spiritual Exercises". He also had a vision of which he says was more an "enlightenment," in that he learned more on that one occasion, than he did during the rest of his life. The experience enabled him to find God in all things. This grace "finding God in all things" is one of the central characteristics of Jesuit spirituality.

"The Spiritual Exercises" are written very concisely, in the form of a notebook, for the priest who is to explain them. The idea of the work is to help the participant to find out what the will of God is in regard to their future, and to give them energy and courage to follow that will. The Exercises guide one through 4 weeks of meditation:

          Week 1 :– on sin and its consequences

          Week 2 :- Christ's life on earth

           Week 3 :– on His passion and death

          Week 4 :– on His risen life

Added to these meditations, are other spiritual instructions, to aid in one's Christian life.

When asked one time, if he really was the author of "The Spiritual Exercises" – Ignatius admitted he wrote them, but that it was Our Lady who told him what to write!

He later founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuit Order of priests and in 1534 they took their vows of: poverty, chastity, and (surprisingly) a third vow to go to the Holy Land after 2 years, when their studies were finished. The purpose in going to the Holy Land was to imitate the life of Christ – where Jesus lived. If going to the Holy Land became impossible, they would go to Rome and place themselves at the disposal of the pope for whatever he would want them to do. St. Ignatius was true to all these vows.

He, alone, anticipated his own death on July 31, 1556, and he died peacefully in the hands of God at the age of 65. In 1622, he was canonized a saint along with his friend and follower, St. Francis Xavier (another great Jesuit priest!).