Ignatius was born in 1491, the 13th and last child of a noble family in northern Spain. Familiar with life at the royal court, he trained as a soldier. Wounded in 1521 when he took a cannonball in the legs, he was sent home to the castle of Loyola to recover. While convalescing, Ignatius read extensively, analysing his own reactions as he read. He discovered that romantic stories of knights left him with pleasurable thoughts which soon turned to a form of depression, whereas stories of the Lord and of the saints filled his mind with peace. Ignatius resolved to devote his life to imitating the saints through prayer and penance.

Travelling to the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, Ignatius, after the knightly fashion, made an all-night vigil before Our Lady's altar. He spent the next 10 months in retreat at nearby Manresa where he experienced visions and wrote the essence of his "Spiritual Exercises." In discerning the nature of his own experiences, he acquired the gift of teaching others to do the same. To this day, the charism of sharing the "Spiritual Exercises" with the laity, as begun by Ignatius himself, continues.

After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Ignatius returned to Spain and began to study and to give religious instruction. On two occasions, he was imprisoned on suspicion of teaching false doctrine since he had neither learning nor authority, so he left for Paris to study philosophy. At 43 he received a Master of Arts degree and, that same year, he and several companions, including Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, vowed to live in poverty and chastity. Their guiding ideal was the promotion of the greater glory of God "(ad majorem Dei gloriam: AMDG).

Ignatius and those of his 10 companions who were not yet priests were ordained in 1539. They had intended to go to Palestine to preach but when war prevented this, they offered themselves for the apostolic service of the pope. In 1540 the order received formal recognition as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), at which time they took a fourth vow of obedience to the pope.

While his companions were sent on missions, Ignatius spent the rest of his life in Rome organizing the order, directing new members, writing the Society's "Constitutions," carrying on voluminous correspondence (6000 letters exist), establishing colleges, founding homes for orphans and catechumens, opposing Protestantism, and refining the "Spiritual Exercises."

Jesuits soon gained an international reputation as educators, scholars, theologians and missionaries. By the time of his death in 1556, Ignatius had nearly 1000 companions, a tremendous growth inspired by his renewed vision of religious life. Ignatius was dearly loved by those for whom he was responsible and admired by his contemporaries. A formidable leader and firm believer in sharing authority, he exhibited a profound understanding of personalities. He was canonized in 1622 and in 1922 named patron saint of spiritual exercises and retreats.

Elisabeth Dalgaard, Pointe-Claire, QC
Taken from "Living With Christ"
Published by NOVALIS

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