St. Ignatius of Loyola was born to a noble family in 1491. When he grew old enough, his parents sent him to be raised in the court of the Spanish king, Ferdinand the 5th. There, Ignatius found himself quite swallowed by the pomp and glitter of court living. Soon, however, he grew restless at being idle all the time, so he joined the Spanish army at the first opportunity. He was only a soldier for a few years when he was wounded in the defense of a citadel by a cannon ball, which broke both of his legs. He was hastily tended to by a field surgeon. He was then sent to his childhood home to recover. There, his brother and sister-in-law made him as comfortable as possible as several different surgeries were performed on his badly injured legs. In one of his many fits of boredom, Ignatius asked his sister-in-law for a book to read. She brought him the only two books in the house: ‘The Life of Our Savior,’ and ‘The Lives of The Saints.’ Ignatius rather indignantly rejected them at first, saying that they were not the right material for a soldier to read. So the books sat, unread for a time, while Ignatius amused himself by staring out of the window and at the wall, dreaming of the time he would finally be well enough to return to court and soldier life.
Yet boredom soon got the better of him. Grudgingly, he picked up ‘The Life of Our Savior’ just to have something different to do. When he finished that, he read ‘The Lives of The Saints.’ But that wasn’t the end of it. Oh, no. He read the books again. And again. And again. Soon, he found himself thinking less and less of his return to his old life, and more and more about the life of a saint. Surely, that was a life more wonderful than any lived in wealth, or on the glorious battlefield!
Accordingly, the moment Ignatius was well enough to travel, he resigned from the army. He was in turmoil over his many sins, and he decided to atone for them by taking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On his way, he stopped at a Benedictine monastery. There, he made his general confession, which lasted for three days! He met many delays on his road, and made both friends and enemies as he began to form a set of prayers, which he called his Spiritual Exercises, to draw himself closer to God. He also received many visions. During one, Our Lord told Ignatius that he wished for him to form a company of men, to go out in the world to save souls. Ignatius, a very humble man, was astonished and yet overjoyed by this new task. Now he finally knew what God wanted him to do with his life!
When he reached Jerusalem, Ignatius felt sure that this was the place where he was to start his order. But God had other plans, and, rather reluctantly, Ignatius returned to Spain to receive the education that he hadn’t recieved as a child. After several years of hard studying, Ignatius was finally able to enter a university. While he was there, he spoke to people during his free time about his Spiritual Exercises and of other spiritual matters. However, in the age of heretics, the Spanish Inquisition frowned upon his practices, and, though innocent of any false teaching, Ignatius was compelled to leave Spain. From there, he went to a university in Paris. There, he had better luck. He received a degree, and managed to gather a handful of followers, one of whom was St. Francis Xavier. Together, they decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Along the way, they gathered even more followers. When they stopped at Rome to receive the Pope’s blessing on their journey, those of them who were not already priests were ordained (save one, who was too young at the time). However, their attempts to reach the Holy Land failed as a Turkish war broke out. The Company decided to return to Rome.
For a while, the Company of Jesus, as they called themselves, worked for the Pope. But as their numbers steadily increased, they decided that it was time to become an order. They wrote a plan for their order, and presented it to the Pope. After nearly a year, the Pope finally gave his approval. When he did, the Company decided that they needed to have a superior over the order. They took a vote, and, in the end, all the votes- save the one Ignatius himself put in- were all for Ignatius. Despite several attempts to resign, Ignatius remained the head of the order until the day of his death.
Sixteen years after the founding of the order, Ignatius grew ill. The Company did not think much of it (because of his constant penances, Ignatius was often sick), but Ignatius knew better. The night before he died, he told one of his companions that this was to be his last night on earth. When the next morning dawned, Ignatius passed from this world. By that time, the Company of Jesus- or the Jesuits, as they are more widely known- had founded thirty-seven colleges throughout Europe, and had sent three hundred priests out into the world. As even more time passed, the order would receive great renown -for men like St. Edmund Campion, who ministered to persecuted England during the reformation, and St. Isaac Jogues who taught the natives in the newly discovered Americas- and gained the red crown of martyrdom doing so. If he had known all this would be done under his order, Ignatius would have been both surprised and humbled to have been the man God chose to start it all.
O glorious Patriarch, St. Ignatius, we humbly beseech you to obtain from God above all things, freedom from sin, the greatest of evils. May your example inflame our hearts with an efficacious glory to God and the good of our neighbor; and to obtain from the loving Heart of Jesus, our Lord, the crown of all other graces, the gift of perseverance, and eternal beatitude. Amen
St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!
Derleth, August. Saint Ignatius and the Company of Jesus, Ignatius Press, 1999
Hoever, Rev. Hugo. Illustrated Lives of the Saints, Catholic Book Publishing Corp. 2005