St. Ignatius of Loyola

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. In celebration of this special feast day (Georgetown University is a Jesuit institution), we wanted to share this selection from Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year that highlights St. Ignatius.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was born in his family’s castle, near Azpeitia, in Spain’s Basque country, sometime before October 23, 1491. As a youth, he served (1506?-17) as a page to Juan Velazquez de Cuellar, King Ferdinand V’s chief treasurer, and there he learned his courtly manners. In 1517, he entered the service of the Duke of Najera, Viceroy of Navarre, and while defending the fortress at Pamplona was wounded (May 20, 1521) by a cannon shot. He convalesced at Loyola Castle, and by reading a life of Christ as well as those of the saints, he experienced a conversion and resolved to visit the Holy Land and serve the Lord.

On his way to the Holy Land, he stopped at the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, and there he made a night’s vigil (March 24-25, 1522) before the Black Madonna. He then went on to nearby Manresa and spent about eleven months in prayer and penance. After a brief visit to Rome to request papal approval for his pilgrimage, he left Venice and arrived in Jerusalem on September 4, 1523. Less than a month later, he left to return to Venice. He then made his way to Barcelona to begin his studies “in order to help souls.” After studies in Barcelona (1524-26), Alcala (1526-27), and Salamanca (1527), Ignatius went to the University of Paris (1528-35), and there he gathered a group of six like-minded men. On August 15, 1534, in a Montmartre chapel, the small band of seven took a vow to go to Jerusalem within a year after their studies, if this were possible, and work for the conversion of the Turks. After their arrival in Venice (1537), they learned that they could not sail for the Holy Land because of imminent war; hence, they went (November 1567) to Rome and offered (November 18-23, 1538) their services to Pope Paul III.

After Ignatius and his first companions decided to form a new religious congregation, their plans received Paul III’s approval (September 27, 1540), and thus the Society of Jesus was born. Ignatius was then elected general and accepted the office on April 19, 1541; on April 22, in a ceremony at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the six pronounced their vows as Jesuits. As a general of the new order, Ignatius remained in Rome, wrote its Constitutions, and supervised the Society’s growth, not only in Italy, but in the other countries of Europe as well. He likewise sent missionaries to India. Because of the excessive acts of penance he had practiced while at Manresa, his health had been severely impaired. St. Ignatius died in Rome on July 31, 1556, and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. His Spiritual Exercises had been first approved by Pope Paul III on July 31, 1548, and on July 25, 1922, Pope Pius XI named him heavenly patron of all Spiritual Exercises.

Interested in learning more? As Georgetown University is a Jesuit institution, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s order features importantly in the three-volume A History of Georgetown University. Another book by Georgetown University Press that reflects on the Society of Jesus is Reverse Mission, a work that looks at religious orders’ influence on US foreign policy.

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