Saints for Today: Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (1491-1556)


Feast Day: July 31

Founder of the Jesuits and the youngest of eleven children of a noble Basque family, Ignatius was raised to be a soldier in the Spanish army. He fought the French in Castile, but was wounded at the siege of Pamplona in 1521. His broken leg was badly set, was broken again, and reset. The impact of the cannon ball, made worse by bad surgery, left him deformed and with a limp for the rest of his life. During his convalescence he asked to read knightly romances; instead he was given “A Life of Christ” and some “Legends of the Saints.” His conversion followed; he lived for a year in prayer and penance. During the time of prayer and penance, he experienced both desolation and consolation, and wrote the first draft of his famous “Spiritual Exercises.” Having no strong convictions of faith up to then, he reported suddenly having a vision of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, with Jesus beside her. He abandoned the selfish ideal of seeking glory for himself and lived instead “for the greater glory of God,” (Latin: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or ADGM).

In Paris to do further studies, the ambitious young Ignatius formed a brotherhood with six friends. Among them was Saint Francis Xavier who would become the great missionary to the East. Having now been ordained, Ignatius instructed the group using his own spiritual manual, “Spiritual Exercises.” This work consisted of a four-week course designed to induct new “soldiers of Christ,” as Ignatius referred to the members of his brotherhood. They gave themselves to chastity and poverty, and determined to teach those without education.

As founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola is one of the most influential saints in Catholic history. He started his order in 1534, when corruption within the Church and the Protestant revolt were tearing Christendom apart. Ignatius and his Jesuits offered a new model of Catholic priesthood: men who were intensely trained in theology, in the art of debate and of preaching and in explaining and defending the faith. They went out as new missionaries to Europe, encouraging Catholics in their faith and reconciling Protestants to Rome. They founded schools that were recognized as the best in Europe; served as advisors to kings, noblemen, and popes; and traveled as missionaries to every corner of the globe.

Ignatius died suddenly in 1556. By then the Jesuits numbered over 1,000 members in nine European provinces besides those working in the foreign missions. In 1990 they numbered 24,500. He was canonized in 1622 and declared patron of spiritual exercises and retreats by Pope Pius XI.


Craughwell, Thomas J. “Saints Preserved-An Encyclopedia of Relics.” New York, NY: Image Books, 2011.
Creighton-Jobe, Rev. Ronald, et al. “The Complete Illustrated History of Catholicism and the Catholic Saints.” Wigston, Leicestershire: Anness Publishing, 2011.
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons


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