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Ignatius of Loyola

Spanish ecclesiastic reformer and mystic, founder and first general of the Society of Jesus.* He was born in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa in NW Spain. Little is known of his youth. His father died when he was about fourteen, whereupon he attached himself to the court of King Ferdinand, pursuing a military career. In 1521, defending Spain’s claim to Navarre against France, while at the fortress of Pamplona, Loyola was struck by a cannon ball. One leg was badly mangled, ending his military career. While recuperating at the castle of Loyola he chanced to read Ludolph of Saxony’s Life of Christ. Inspired to become a soldier for Christ, he vowed lifelong chastity and soon entered the monastery at Manresa. Here he spent nearly a year in ascetic practices, experienced several mystical visions, and composed the essence of that great manual of spiritual warfare and conquest, the Spiritual Exercises. After a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1523, he commenced his schooling, culminating it with the M.A. at Paris University (1535).

At Paris he gathered around him a band of associates who worked through the Exercises and became fired with Loyola’s ideal. After graduation, Loyola and six dedicated colleagues (Nicolas de Bobadilla, Peter Faber, Diego Laynez, Simon Rodriguez, Alfonso Salmeron, and Francis Xavier), at St. Mary’s Church in Montmartre, vowed together a life of poverty, chastity, and a career of service in the Holy Land or, failing that, of unreserved service to the pope. They met the following year in Venice, found their way to Jerusalem blocked by war, and finally won a favorable response from Paul III, leading to their approval as an Order of the church. This was officially confirmed by the bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae (1540).

In early 1548 Loyola was unanimously chosen “general” for the society. He provided the organization of the group by the famous Constitutions, which outlined a paramilitary structure with obedience, discipline, and efficiency the key ideas. Heavy stress was laid also on education and preparation, and Loyola founded in 1551 the Roman College as a model. Based on these ideals the Jesuits* took the lead in the Catholic reform movement. Loyola was beatified in 1609, canonized in 1622.

Bibliography: Autobiography (1900 and 1956); P. Dudon, St. Ignatius of Loyola (1950); J. Brodrick, St. Ignatius Loyola: The Pilgrim Years (1956); Letters to Women (1960); R. Gleason (ed.), Spiritual Exercises (1964).

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