On the occasion of the liturgical feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which the Catholic Church celebrates on July 31, here are some facts about the life and work of the founder of the Society of Jesus, called “Jesuits”, and the creator of the Spiritual Exercises.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, July 31st
He was a member of the nobility
Saint Ignatius was born in the castle of Loyola, in Guipuzcoa, northern Spain. He was baptized with the name of Iñigo de Loyola, and after studying in Paris (France), he took the name “Ignatius”. The saint’s parents belonged to ancient noble families of the Basque Country.
Before his conversion, he led a libertine life
In the 16th century, the socio-political situation was extremely violent in the Basque Country, located on the border with France. Like some nobles of the time, Ignatius was conflictive, and violent and lived irresponsible sexuality.
Ignatius, before converting to Catholicism, was a Spanish soldier with a police record related to nighttime brawls.
Almost died in battle
In 1519, when he was 28 years old, St. Ignatius demanded that his small group of soldiers fight against 12,000 French troops in Pamplona, Spain.
During the battle, he took a cannonball to the legs, which shattered one of his limbs and severely damaged the other. His wounds forced him to spend a long period of recuperation in the Loyola family home, a time that changed his life forever.
He was converted by reading spiritual books
During his convalescence, the saint read texts on the life of Christ and the saints and decided to imitate them. One night the Virgin Mary appeared to him with Christ and from then on he decided to serve God.
An interesting fact is that the saint copied passages from the life of Christ and the saints: the words of Jesus were written in red and those of his Blessed Mother in blue.
St. Ignatius’s congregation was to be called the “Company of Mary”
After his conversion, Our Lady appeared to him on as many as thirty occasions. Because of this, St. Ignatius initially wanted to call “the Company of Mary” to what is now called the “Society of Jesus”.
When he recovered from his wounds, the saint made a pilgrimage to the famous Sanctuary of the Virgin of Monserrat, where he decided to do penance for his sins: he exchanged his luxurious clothes for those of a beggar, consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin and went to confession.
Lived as a beggar
During his life, St. Ignatius reflected much on the “spirits”: the spirits that lead to God and the spirits born of the devil.
This restlessness stimulated him to live what historians call a period of pilgrimage, a time when he decided to renounce worldly pleasures and wore sackcloth and shoes with rope soles.
He wanted to convert the Muslims
Upon finishing writing the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius declared that “God wants me to convert the Muslims!”. So he traveled to the Holy Land in 1523 and preached the Gospel in the streets for a year. He then returned to Spain and studied Latin, logic, physics, and theology.
His companions were called “devils”
An English historian in the 19th century called the “Seven Spanish Devils” the first six companions St. Ignatius had in the Society of Jesus, founded in 1540.
The companions, who were not all Spaniards, met St. Ignatius during his studies in Paris and met in Rome to become part of the Society of Jesus. In less than a century, St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier, one of the six companions, were canonized.
At his death, there were already thousands of Jesuits in existence.
St. Ignatius lived his last years in a small room in Rome. From there he led the Society of Jesus and witnessed its growth: from just 6 Jesuits in 1541, it grew to 10,000 by 1556, the year of his death. The Jesuits expanded throughout Europe, India, and Brazil during those years.