July 28, 2006

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.



From valiant warrior to saint
Ignatius’s spiritual search begins
Ignatius turns to higher studies
The society is approved; Ignatius is first superior
The legacy of St. Ignatius


Just a few days from now—on July 31—the universal Church and the worldwide Jesuit community will celebrate the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits. I’m happy to add my Franciscan voice to the praises being sung this year in honor of one of the great saints of Church history.

Earlier this year (May 19-22, 2006), 40 pilgrims and I traveled through Spain. During those four days, we visited the shrines of four great Spanish saints in this order: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. We at St. Anthony Messenger are planning to run a story on this pilgrimage for our December 2006 issue. Its working title is “Four Great Spanish Saints.” In the next few months, I also plan to use these columns to reflect, one by one, on each of these saints and on what we might learn from their places of birth, shrines and legacies. Because the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius is almost upon us, we will start with him.

From valiant warrior to saint

Born of noble parents in 1491 at the family Castle of Loyola in the Basque region of northern Spain, Ignatius was the youngest of 13 children. The young Ignatius had dreams of being a valiant soldier in the service of the Duke of Nagara. During the battle of Pamplona in 1521, however, his leg was shattered by a cannonball.

This stained glass on display in the Loyola Castle depicts Ignatius after being struck by a cannonball. (Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.)

After the battle, he was brought back to the ancestral castle for what would be a long recovery. Confined to his sickbed, he asked for books to read. All they could offer him were religious works instead of tales of romance. Disappointed at first, he soon found himself becoming profoundly inspired by a life of Christ, as well as by the lives of the saints. He found the biographies of saints like Francis of Assisi and Dominic, for example, very compelling. Their inspiring lives moved Ignatius so deeply that he decided that he, too, wanted to do great things for God.

In touring the Castle of Loyola on May 21, our pilgrimage group saw the room where Ignatius was born and the chamber where he recovered from his injuries as well as many other parts of his spacious home. The entire castle today is enclosed in an immense building that includes the 17th century Basilica of St. Ignatius which draws thousand of visitors each month. The whole structure is referred to as the Sanctuary of Loyola.

Visitors to the Loyola Castle in Spain can view this painting of the castle hanging on one of its walls. (Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.)

Ignatius’s spiritual search begins

After recovering sufficiently from his injuries, Ignatius set his heart on making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But he decided to make some shorter spiritual journeys first. One was to the famous Shrine of Our Lady at Montserrat, near Barcelona. He then spent several months in personal prayer (1522-23), living the life of a poor pilgrim at a small nearby town called Manresa. He experienced the deepening of his spiritual life and began writing what was the basis of his famous Spiritual Exercises, which would eventually be published in 1548. The Exercises were written as practical guides (tools for spiritual discernment) to help both himself and, in time, other spiritual seekers discern how the Holy Spirit was leading them to fuller life in God.

He visited Rome in 1523 and received the pope’s permission to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. September 4-23 of 1523, he was deeply moved in visiting the many places made holy by Jesus' living presence. Yet because of dangers from the Turks, he had to cut his stay short, which disappointed him deeply. He also came to realize on his return to Italy that, if he wanted to make his own special contribution to the Church of his day, he would need to work on his own formal education. This would be especially true if he were ever to consider becoming a priest.

Ignatius turns to higher studies

With determination, and indeed a bit of humility, Ignatius, who was now over 30 years of age, found himself sitting in Latin class beside small boys learning their lessons. His academic journey would soon take him to the university towns of Alcala and Salamanca in Spain and ultimately to Paris. In Paris he would continue working on his Spiritual Exercises. This not only helped him discern God’s ongoing plans for himself, but also served as a good tool to lead a new roommate, Francisco Javier—and ultimately many others—to a greater spiritual understanding of their own Christian calls. The world would later come to know his roommate as St. Francis Xavier, a great Jesuit saint and missionary to the Far East.

In time, Ignatius gathered Francis and five other fellow students around him at Paris, and they decided to form the Company of Jesus. They made their vows on August 15, 1534, on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady in Paris in the crypt of the Chapel of St. Denis. The formal title, Society of Jesus, was not adopted till 1537, when Ignatius and seven of this band were ordained to the priesthood in Venice. The group had originally vowed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to work for the conversion of the Muslims but, again, because of the threat of war from the Turks, they ended up going instead to Rome and offering their services to the Holy Father.

The Society is approved; Ignatius is first superior

Pope Paul III approved the Society in 1540, and the group professed their final vows in 1541. Ignatius was elected superior general. He began the difficult task of writing the constitutions for his order and of deciding what work should be assigned to the growing number of men desiring to enter the Society of Jesus. Jesuits would soon be sent out to missionary locations and to serve in Jesuit schools. Soon Jesuit Colleges and seminaries were being established all over Europe.

Ignatius was to spend the rest of his remaining years in Rome performing the administrative tasks of the first superior of the Jesuits. By the time he died in Rome on July 31, 1556, the Jesuits had come a long way in fulfilling goals Ignatius had set for his order, namely, the reform of the Church, good Christian education and widespread missionary activity. Ignatius had indeed accomplished great things ad majorem Dei gloriam, that is, “for the greater glory of God.”

Ignatius was canonized in 1622 and was proclaimed patron of retreats and spiritual exercises by Pope Pius XI. Visitors from around the world continue to venerate his remains enshrined in the popular Jesuit church in Rome known as the Gesu.

The legacy of St. Ignatius

As we have seen, Ignatius was a warrior who was wounded in battle and went on to become a saint. In what ways has this saint left his mark on the world? Certainly we can refer to many great institutions of learning established by the Jesuit Order. We can also point to his Spiritual Exercises or 30-day retreats. These four-week programs are still a popular and highly valued method of spiritual discernment in many retreat centers around the world.

Finally, I can say that my own life has been influenced by the familiar motto of St. Ignatius and that of the Jesuits: “for the greater glory of God.” In the 1940’s, I was taught in a Catholic grade school in the little town of Batesville, Indiana. The sisters who taught at the school, who happened to be Franciscans, had their students recite at frequent intervals throughout the day: “All for the honor and glory of God.” Those words are still imprinted on my memory—a legacy, no doubt, of Ignatius of Loyola!

Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org.

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