Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Society of Jesus
Ignatius was a minor nobleman, born in 1491 in the family castle of Loyola in Basque country and brought up as a knight in the courts of Spain. In his young days, Ignatius was highly ambitious, enjoyed warlike sports and wanted to be famous by all means. When he was twenty six years old, he led a hopeless defense of the fort at Pamplona in Spain against the much bigger French army. He was hit by a cannon ball which shattered his one leg and badly injured the other.
During his long months of convalescence, he read the books on Life of Jesus and the Lives of Saints. (Saints are holy people who abandon everything that they have for love of God and live a life of selfless service.) Ignatius’ heart was transformed. Instead of becoming a famous knight in the courts, he wanted to do great things for God, like the Saints before him did and even more (magis).
Ignatius left his family, property and inheritance, gave up his nobleman’s dress and sword and began to live the life of a sadhu. For many years, he lived as a pilgrim, begging for food and shelter, meditating and praying and helping the sick in hospitals. Finally, he came to realize that God wanted him to serve people by becoming a Catholic priest (Father). He did his studies from the University of Paris and became a Priest at the age of forty six.
Ignatius’ devotion to God and service to the poor attracted many brilliant and talented young men like Francis Xavier to him. Along with them, he established a new religious group in the Catholic Church. They named it the Society of Jesus (SJ) and the members who joined them came to be called as Jesuits.
St. Ignatius wrote down the experiences of his meditation and prayer that led him to achieve enlightenment in a copy which was published as The Spiritual Exercises. It contains methods of prayer that can transform a person into a better human being. He also dictated his life story and it is written down and published as The Autobiography. The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus the book of rules and regulations inspired by love was also written by St. Ignatius with the help of his secretary. After his death, his personal reflections and letters were collected together and published as The Letters. He died on 31 July 1566 in Rome. Along with his close friend Francis Xavier, he was declared a Saint by Catholic Church in 1622.
St. Ignatius through his life and work taught the world that God can be found in everything in creation and especially in every person. He taught that we can be extremely busy with work but at the same time can have a deep spiritual life. For him education and careers were not ends in themselves, but were means to make our lives and the lives of others better.