On April 19, 1541, Ignatius of Loyola became the first Superior General of the Jesuits:

On April 19, 1541, Ignatius of Loyola became the first Superior General of the Jesuits:

Ignatius of Loyola

EARLY LIFE

Ignatius was born Íñigo López on October 23, 1491 in the municipality of Azpeitia at the castle of Loyola in today’s Basque Country, near the Pyrenees in Spain. It is unclear when he started using Ignatius instead of his baptismal name “Íñigo”. Ignatius adopted the last name “de Loyola” in reference to the Basque village of Loyola where he was born.

The youngest of thirteen children, Íñigo López was brought up by María de Garín, the local blacksmith‘s wife, after his own mother died soon after his birth.

Íñigo became a page in the service of a relative, Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, treasurer (contador mayor) of the kingdom of Castile. As a courtier, he led a dissipated life.

In 1509, Íñigo took up arms for Antonio Manrique de Lara, Duke of Nájera and Viceroy of Navarre. Under the Duke’s leadership, he participated in many battles.

CONVERSION

On May 20, 1521 Ignatius took part in the Battle of Pamplona fighting the French when a cannonball shattered his right leg. After the battle the Navarrese so admired his bravery that they carried him all the way back to his home in Loyola.

The fracture was badly repaired and Ignatius’ surgeons were forced to break his leg again to set it correctly. He was left with a permanent limp.

During a long and painful convalescence from his painful leg wound, Ignatius read about the lives of the saints. Inspired by their heroic lives, he committed himself to a spiritual life.

The newly converted Ignatius spent a year in prayer and penance with self-flagellation at a cave at Manresa in the mountains  near Montserrat where he formulated the fundamentals of his Spiritual Exercises.

Ignatius was briefly imprisoned twice by the Inquisition in the mid 1520s for heresy due to his regime of self discipline and preaching on street corners.

In 1528 Ignatius entered the University of Paris where he remained over seven years, extending his literary and theological education and disturbing the students by attempting to interest them in the Spiritual Exercises.

THE JESUIT ORDER

In 1534 Ignatius Loyola formed a fraternity with six fellow Theology students, including 28-year-old Francis Xavier at the University of Paris. They professed vows of poverty, chastity, and later obedience.

                               
St. Ignatius of Loyola by peter Paul Rubens

In 1537, the fraternity traveled to Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation, and permitted them to be ordained priests.

These initial steps led to the founding of what would be called the Society of Jesus (also known as Jesuits) dedicated to practical work and the conversion of infidels. The Society of Jesus received its charter from Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540.

On April 19, 1541, Ignatius became the first Superior General of the Jesuits. As Superior General, he established many schools and colleges and sent missionaries to Brazil, India and Japan.

The Jesuit order was organised in a military fashion. Its members looked upon themselves as “Knights in the Service of Jesus.”

Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises was finally printed in 1548, 25 years after it was first drafted. A book of spiritual exercises designed to break the will by contemplating the agonies of hell and the mercy of Christ,  he used as a model the 40-year-old book Exercises for the Spiritual Life by the Spanish abbot, Garcia de Cisneros. The exercises in the book were designed to be carried out over a period of 28–30 days.

DEATH AND LEGACY

Ignatius died in Rome on July 31, 1556, as a result of the Roman Fever, a severe stream of malaria. At the time of his death there were 110 Jesuit houses and 1,000 missionaries working on four continents.

Ignatius was beatified and then canonized and received the title of Saint on March 12, 1622. He is the patron saint of the provinces of Gipuzkoa and Biscay as well as Catholic soldiers.

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