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Saint Ignatius of Loyola


Saint Ignatius was a Spanish Catholic priest who founded the religious order of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) along with six of his companions. Ignatius understood the purpose of this order to be missions work and teaching, as well as to be engaged directly with projects ordained by the pope. 

Ignatius paid particular attention to the formation of his society, and penned the Spiritual Exercises as his method of discernment. In time, this Ignatian Spirituality defined the Society of Jesus and those who wish to be contemplatives in action. 

Who was St. Ignatius of Loyola?

St. Ignatius was born Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola in 1491. The youngest of 13 children, Iñigo grew up in Castle Loyola where pursuing worldly glory was his priority. He was a womanizer, a rake, strutting about like a peacock and quick to draw his sword. Iñigo set his sights on a military career as a way to secure his fame. In 1508, 17-year-old Iñigo joined the army, and he spent the next almost-13 years making a name for himself. 

When Iñigo was 29, a cannonbell shattered his leg and the life he'd spent years building at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521. His broken leg was set incorrectly, undoing the perfect image he had crafted for himself. His right leg was shorter than his left, and he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. His military career was over. 

What a blow this must have been for Iñigo! As he recovered in his family's castle, he asked for the one thing that might bring him comfort: tales of dashing knights like El Cid and Arthur's Round Table. Instead, his sister-in-law brought him an illustrated Life of Christ and a book of the saints' lives. Figures like Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic captured his vivid imagination, and he began to picture himself performing great acts like the saints in service to God. At the same time, he still fantasized about being a brave knight and his royal lady. 

Here was the beginning of Iñigo's method of spiritual discernment. He realized that while both kinds of daydreams could occupy him for hours, the after-effects were markedly different. While dreams of chivalric heroism left him drained and despondent, Iñigo found that his saintly dreams left him peaceful and happy. By meditating on these feelings, these different spirits moving in him, Iñigo saw how God used his emotions to guide him toward a new way of living!

Pilgrim and Scholar

In 1522, Iñigo began a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He traveled first to Monsterrat, where, before the Black Madonna in the Benedictine abbey, Iñigo hung up his sword for good. 

He traveled next to Manresa, intending to stay for only a few days before traveling to Israel. He remained in Manresa for 10 months, begging for food and doing chores for lodging. Iñigo spent much of this time in a cave, often spending up to 7 hours a day in prayer. His notes on the experience formed the basis of his Spiritual Exercises, which he would later revise in Paris. 

Although Iñigo did arrive in the Holy Land, the Franciscans soon sent him back to Europe. Undeterred, Iñigo enrolled in a grammar school to prepare for university—at 33, he must have towered over his 8– to 14-year-old classmates! Eventually, Iñigo moved to the university towns of Alcalá and Salamanca, until he finally began to study for his master's degree at the University of Paris. 


It was about this time that Iñigo began going by Ignatius—perhaps a lingering desire to appear more acceptable to the world, but maybe a nod to Saint Ignatius of Antioch as well. Ignatius earned his degree in 1535, at the age of 43. He was ordained a priest, along with some of his companions, in 1537.

Founding the Jesuits

While at the University of Paris, Ignatius surrounded himself by likeminded men who wanted to serve God. Six men—Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laynez, Nicholas Bobadilla, Simão Rodrigues, Francis Xavier, and Peter Faber—joined Ignatius in taking vows for their lifelong mission. 

Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, who had been Ignatius's roommates in Paris, became his first companions in the Society of Jesus, which the three men formed in 1539. Pope Paul III approved the group in 1540. What bonded them was Ignatius's unique form of discernment, and he guided each of them through his Spiritual Exercises.

The companions chose Ignatius as the Superior General, and he sent his companions across Europe and around the world to create schools and colleges. At all times, Ignatius and his Companions kept this as their charge: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, For the Greater Glory of God.


Ignatius died in 1556, when he was 64 years old. In 1609, Pope Paul V beatified Ignatius, and Pope Gregory XV canonized Saint Ignatius of Loyola on 12 March 1622. His feast is celebrated on July 31, the day that he died. 

Further Reading

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