A Brief History of St. Ignatius Loyola

St. Ignatius, born Inigo Lopez de Loyola in 1491, was a man whose life was marked by deep desires. While recuperating from a battle wound, the young courtier began to experience the fading of his romantic desires to perform chivalrous and gallant deeds at the same time his desires to follow Christ as his new lord began to grow strong. Full of zeal, Ignatius became a hermit, embarking upon a life of poverty and corporal and spiritual penance.

Transformed by an experience of spiritual consolation and the accompanying insight that God’s love is freely given, Ignatius cast aside the zealous penitential practices that were leading him to despair. It was at this time that Ignatius began to learn the ways of “discerning spirits.” These experiences and insights became the foundation of his Spiritual Exercises – Ignatius’ singularly important contribution to the life of the Church from the Counter-Reformation onward. Ignatius was filled with a new desire to help people find God at work in their own lives. Tempered by recognition of the need for advanced learning in Philosophy and Theology, Ignatius undertook studies at Barcelona, Alcala and Paris, all the while guiding people through the Spiritual Exercises.

It was through this work that Ignatius drew to his side a band of companions who took vows of poverty and chastity. Soon after the completion of their studies, this band of men was hard at work in northern Italy preaching and tending the sick and the poor. Eventually, these companions, now numbering nine, made a communal discernment, based on their experience of joy and effectiveness together, that God was calling them to band together formally. The Society of Jesus was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 and thus became an official Catholic religious order. Ignatius was elected their first leader. He declined after the first vote. He felt unworthy for the position because of the vanity and licentiousness of his earlier life and because he felt that others were more theologically knowledgeable. After much discernment, he accepted the position and served until his death sixteen years later.