St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man groomed in courtly etiquette and the refined taste of the men and the women of his time. Drenched in the power of his military uniform and service of the King of Spain, Ignatius was truly a man of the world. Born in the castle of the Loyolas in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa around 1491 and baptized Inigo de Onaz y Loyola, he was grounded in a deep loyalty to the Catholic faith and intense fidelity to the code of medieval gallantry. At the age of 16 he developed a strong desire for the Spanish military and was taken under the wings of Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar who introduced him to the royal retinue.
During the Spanish war with the French, Ignatius was piqued by the impending disgrace a withdrawal of the Spanish army from the field of Pamplona would bring his sense of worldly honour. Therefore, the young Ignatius stood in defence of Pamplona’s quaking citadel against the French artillery. However, his brazenness was short lived as a canon shell shattered his right leg, forcing the garrison to surrender.
The wounded Ignatius was kindly treated by the French army who used their rudimentary skills to set his broken leg. On recovering and discovering that the setting of his leg was badly done, and still desiring worldly honour, fame, and praise, Ignatius insisted the leg be reset in order for it to fit into his tight-fitting hose. It was during his recuperation that God sowed the seed of transformation in his heart. He had requested a book on chivalry to pass the time but was given the only available books, Life of Christ and the popular medieval lives of the saints, the Golden Legend, to read. It was from the experience of weighing the internal bliss, experienced at reading the Golden Legend, against the transient contentment at thinking about his old desires for chivalry that Ignatius began what would later become his rules for the discernment of spirits.
On his recovery, Ignatius desired to embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After careful preparation for the journey, he made his general confession to Juan Chanones, the director of the Benedictine abbey of Montserrat. While on his journey to the Holy Land, Ignatius stopped at Manresa to note in a copy book some ideas and spiritual practices he had begun during his months of recuperation at Loyola. However, his intended short stay at Manresa lengthened into a whole year of transforming spiritual experience. It was here that Ignatius continued to compose a little book that would deal with Christian spirituality, the Spiritual Exercise.
Ignatius finally reached the Holy Land with twenty other fellow-pilgrims on September 3, 1523. After receiving overwhelming inspirations and filled with the zeal to serve Christ, he decided that the Holy Land would be his dwelling for life. However, the Franciscan superior, knowing what dangers Ignatius’ decision to stay in the Holy Land entailed for the young pilgrim, vetoed Ignatius’ decision.
This new state of things, though initially a disappointment for Ignatius who had desired to serve God in the Holy Land for the rest of his life, would later turn out to be God’s way of leading him to better heights and a more focused way of serving God. After a while, Ignatius decided to study for the priesthood so that he could help other souls attain their divine goals. He returned to Spain and spent three and a half years at Barcelona, Alcalá, and Salamanca. After some tortuous and also grace-filled experience in Spain, Ignatius decided that Paris would be a better choice for attaining the means to help souls.
Ignatius spent seven years in the University of Paris where he did philosophy and some theology. It was in Paris that he gathered six of the first companions who would join him in founding the Society of Jesus years later: Pierre Favre, Francis Xavier (Francisco Javier), Simão Rodriguez, Diego Laynez, Alonso Salmerŏn, and Nicolás Bobadilla. To strengthen the bond of unity among them, they decided to pronounce three vows of poverty, chastity, and a journey to Jerusalem, in the chapel in honour of St. Denis on Montmartre on the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, 1534. In case the last vow became impracticable, they would go to Rome and place themselves at the disposition of the pope. Favre would later receive three other men, Claude Jay, Paschase Broët, and Jean Codure, into their group; Ignatius would also accept one more person, Diego Hozes.
After six more years of toil, frustrations, discomforts, illuminations, graces, and good recommendations received from both nobles and influential religious men, the group founded by Ignatius and his nine companions was finally approved as a religious order with the name, the Society of Jesus by the bull of Pope Paul III, Regimini militantis Ecclesiae, on September 27, 1540. He was later canonized a saint on May 22, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. His feast day is celebrated on July 31.