Inigo de Loyola (Basque: Ignazio Loiolakoa, Spanish: Ignacio de Loyola) (1491 - July 31, 1556) was a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and was its first Superior General. Ignatius emerged as a religious leader during the Counter-Reformation. Loyola's devotion to the Catholic Church was characterized by unquestioning obedience to the Catholic Church's authority and hierarchy.
Inigo was born in Azpeitia in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa in northern Spain. He was the youngest of thirteen children. At the age of sixteen years he was sent to serve as a page to Juan Velazquez, the treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. Two years later, he fought for Antonio Manrique de Lara, Duke of Nájera and Viceroy of Navarre. Somewhere around this time, he changed his name to Ignatius, a simple variant of his name.
Ignatius served the Duke by participating in many battles. During a French attack in May of 1521, a cannonball struck Íñigo, wounding one of his legs and breaking the other. Returning to the castle, he underwent several surgical operations. His situation turned from bad to worse and he was asked by doctors to prepare for death.
On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June) he took an unexpected turn for the better. The leg healed, but when it did the bone protruded below the knee and one leg was shorter than the other. This was unacceptable to Ignatius, who considered it a fate worse than death. He underwent several surgical operations, which were very painful in the days before anaesthetics. Unfortunately, all the operations were unsuccessful. Hence, all his life he walked with a limp because one leg was shorter than the other.
During his recovery, he resorted to reading books. With no other option available, he was forced to read books on saints and the life of Christ. Ludolph of Saxony's 'De Vita Christi' influenced his life greatly. The book is a commentary on the life of Jesus-Christ and on the Gospels borrowing extracts from the works of over sixty of the Fathers of the Church. The book contains quotes of St Gregory the Great, St Basil, St Augustine and the Venerable Bede, asking the reader to place himself at the scene of the Gospel story. This is a method of prayer called Simple Contemplation (also seen in the 'Spiritual Exercises' of Íñigo, in the later years).
After reading Ludolph's book, Ignatius was inspired to lead a life of self-denying labour and imitate the heroic deeds of great monastic leaders, such as St. Francis of Assisi and others. He had set a new mission for himself - converting the non-Christians to Christianity. After complete recovery, he visited the Benedictine monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat, Santa Maria de Montserrat, in 1522. There he made a general confession, and knelt all night in vigil before Our Lady's altar, following the rites of chivalry. He left his sword and knife at the altar, went out and gave away all his fine clothes to a poor man, and dressed himself in rough clothes with sandals and a staff and proceeded to a cave near the town of Manresa, Catalonia, to practice the most rigorous asceticism.
While in the cave he started having visions that played one of the most significant roles in his life. These visions, though never revealed, are said to be represent Ignatius' encounter with God. Through them, he was able to picture God in all things, one of the central characteristics of Jesuit spirituality. For Ignatius, since God was everywhere, all times were times of prayer. He never imposed the fact that there should be a definite time or duration of prayer.
Ignatius resumed his journey from Manresa, crossing Barcelona and finally reaching Rome. After the meeting with Pope Adrian VI, he was granted permission to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy Land. Though Ignatius had wanted to remain in the Holy Land, the dangerous situations that were existing at that point of time, and the threat of being excommunicated, forced him to leave the place and return to Spain.
Unfamiliar with Latin language, Ignatius, at the age of 33 (1524-26), enrolled himself in a school in Barcelona, to study language and grammar. After about 2 years (1526-27), he gained admission in the University of Alcala, in the University, he used to gather students and adults, explaining the Gospels and teaching them the right way to pray. This act was not appreciated by the Spanish Inquisition and he was sent to prison, for about 42 days. Such restrictions made life difficult for Ignatius and he moved to the University of Salamanca (1527-28). There again he suffered brief imprisonment. After his release, he was strictly instructed to teach children only. Unhappy with this, Ignatius left for Paris.
In Paris, Ignatius started studying literature, philosophy and theology. He befriended Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, who were also his roommates. Together with six followers ( Francis Xavier, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laynez, and Nicholas Bobadilla, all Spanish; Peter Faber, a Frenchman; and Simão Rodrigues) he took vows of poverty and chastity. This group was the nucleus of the future Jesuits. They planned to go to the Holy Land and live in imitation of Christ, working to convert the Muslims, but the Turkish wars intervened, and they went to Rome instead. They were ordained (1537) and received by the pope (1538), who set them to work in Italy.
In 1539, Ignatius drew up a Formula for a new order and secured (1540) papal approval. In 1540, the Jesuit Constitution was adopted. Written by Ignatius, the doctrine stressed absolute self-abnegation and obedience to Pope and the superiors. The main motto of Jesuits became 'Ad maiorem Dei gloriam' [A.M.D.G] i.e. for "the greater glory of God." It served as the basis for the later Constitutions, published at his death, by which Jesuits have been governed ever since. Ignatius was elected (1541) general of the order and remained its leader, with headquarters in Rome, until his death.
He was dominated all his life by a desire to imitate Christ. His Spiritual Exercises, written over a number of years, are a series of reflections, examinations of conscience, and prayers, grouped according to a traditional set of four steps leading to mystical union with God. The spirituality identified with St. Ignatius is characterized by emphasis on human initiative. His little book is a classic of Christian mysticism and is much used by devout Catholics. His concept of the “soldier of Christ” has often been understood too militaristically: Ignatius used the image in obvious imitation of St. Paul (Eph. 6.10-17).
The stomach problem, which started early in the life of Ignatius, gave him much trouble. During the summer of 1556, the pain worsened. Though he asked his secretary to get the papal blessing for him, the latter did not pay heed to the advice, thinking Ignatius would survive. However, on July 30th, 1556, around midnight, the stomach pain of Ignatius worsened. Sometime later, he left for the heaven abode, making the date of his death to be 31st July. He is buried in the Gesù at Rome.
Ignatius was beatified by Pope Paul V on July 27, 1609 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 13, 1622. His feast day is celebrated annually on July 31, the day he died. Saint Ignatius is venerated as the patron saint of Catholic soldiers, the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, Society of Jesus, Educators and Education, the Basque country and various towns and cities in his native region.
Feast Day: July 31