Saint Ignatius Loyola – Founder
of the Jesuits
Saint Ignatius was born in his family castle in Guipuzcoa, in the Basque
region of Spain. He was the youngest of thirteen children. His baptismal name was Inigo. When he was old
enough, he first became a page in the household of the regional royal treasurer, and then pursued a military
In 1521, he
fought against the French in one of their regular incursions into northern Spain. A cannon ball, and a
series of botched operations on his shattered leg ended his military career.
recuperation, he read a popular “Lives of the Saints” anthology, and he decided to dedicate himself to becoming
a soldier of Christ. During this time, he experienced a number of pivotal spiritual experiences which mapped out
the direction of his life. But he soon also suffered severe trials of fear and scruples: these almost drove him
to despair. As a result of these various experiences, he wrote his famous “Spiritual
travel (which included Palestine and Italy) – he constantly referred to himself as “the pilgrim” – he took up
studies in various schools (Avila, Salamanca and Barcelona). He ended up at the Sorbonne in Paris, where
he received a Master’s degree (the equivalent of the modern doctorate) in 1534. He was forty-three years
old at the time.
Because of his
austere life-style and single-minded Catholicism, he attracted considerable opposition in Paris. Despite
this, he also attracted a number of talented followers. These included Saint Francis Xavier. It was
in Paris that the kernel of the Society of Jesus was planted. Paul III approved the Society of Jesus in
1540, and Ignatius spent the rest of his days in Rome.
Ignatius died on
31 July 1556. He was beatified in 1609, and canonised, together with Saints Philip Neri, Francis Xavier
and Teresa of Avila, in 1622. Over one hundred and fifty members of the Society of Jesus have been
declared Blessed, and over fifty have been canonised as Saints.
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