Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius was born, probably in 1491, into the Loyola family in Guipúzcoa, the Basque Province of Spain. The youngest of nine children, at his Baptism he was given the name Inigo, later Latinized to Ignatius. In his teen years Ignatius was educated in the household of the Spanish King and given the clerical tonsure. He then joined the household of the Duke of Navarre, and was instrumental – as a soldier and administrator – in calming and subjugating several towns under the duke's authority.

In a battle near Pamplona, (Spain) Ignatius, then in his mid-twenties, sustained a leg injury that left him with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life. During the long recovery period from his wound, Ignatius experienced the beginnings of a religious conversion. In March 1522, after a knightly vigil at the Marian shrine at Monserrat, he continued what was to be a six-year period of religious conversion that included a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Returning to Europe, Ignatius was often called upon to offer spiritual direction. However, because he was doing this ministry without the benefit of an academic degree, he encountered opposition from the Inquisition. Ignatius responded by undertaking theology studies at the University of Paris. His roommates were Francis Xavier and Peter Favre with whom he shared the spiritual program he had developed: "The Spiritual Exercises." Ignatius completed his university studies around Spring 1534, visited his family in Spain and spent some time in further theology studies. In early 1537, Ignatius, with his companions, --six friends from his years in Paris-- went to Rome where they had an audience with Pope Paul III, and in May of that year Ignatius was ordained a priest.

The formation of a new apostolic religious order, the "Society of Jesus," began around 1540, and immediately members of the group were sent to various regions of Europe in need of well-educated priestly ministry. In April 1541, following a communal discernment with his first followers, Ignatius was elected superior of the group, now called "the Jesuits." His vision for his followers was Christ-centered: to be with Christ and to work with Christ wherever there was a perceived need. This vision could be accomplished only with a world-view that emphasized mobility, nurtured and sustained by discerning the relationship between members' gifts and the needs of their neighbors near and far.

The spirit and ministry of the new group were attractive. For Ignatius, increasing membership and the demand for well-educated priestly ministry meant devoting his time and energy to the governance and development of the group. The mid-sixteenth century was a time of social and educational development in Europe and of mission activities in newly-discovered and newly-acknowledged regions of the world. Ignatius' new religious order responded with distinctive characteristics: solid spiritual formation, theological education, a sense of fraternity not dependent on proximity, and a willingness to go beyond familiar borders to respond to the spiritual needs of all humanity.